If you live in an area prone to wildfires, which is the case in states like California and Texas, you've probably had to manage wildfire smoke entering your home. Wildfire smoke is a problem that can affect anyone. The smoke billows into the air and doesn't stay in one place or fall directly back to the ground. It can wind up in just about any home in the country.
Follow along as we break down what wildfire smoke is and the health risks it can pose. We also cover methods for preventing wildfire smoke from entering the air you breathe inside your home. This guide contains everything you need to know and do if a wildfire threatens your home.
Wildfires In The U.S.
In the past 10 years, the U.S. experienced some of the harshest and most consequential wildfires in the last century. Wildfire season is getting longer as the climate across the country becomes dryer, making each season more volatile than the next.
While there are various natural causes of wildfires, a large portion of fires are actually started by humans. Below, you’ll see that in some years, humans caused more acres of land to burn than a lighting strike or spontaneous combustion. In many cases, these fires are entirely preventable, which is why fire safety is crucial.
The total number of acres burned each year during fire season is also trending up. While the number of fires per year stays fairly consistent, the number of acres burned reached over 100,000 three times in the last decade.
Annual wildfire seasons show no signs of calming down. As more acres get burned each year, smoke inhalation becomes a very common issue that homeowners have to be prepared for. Without preparation and proper air filtration practices, smoke inhalation can severely impact your and your family’s health.
Health Effects Of Wildfire Smoke
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that the air inside a house can become polluted by wildfire smoke, making it unsafe to breathe. At the same time, there may be shelter indoors orders when the air quality outdoors is especially low. If you can't evacuate, then staying inside is your best option.
Whether indoors or outdoors, fine particles brought about by wildfire smoke can cause adverse reactions if they get in your eyes or respiratory system. It could even cause serious health problems for people with existing chronic lung or heart disease.
Wildfire smoke inhalation is a danger to your health because wildfire smoke isn't just from the fire itself. It is composed of many different particles that mainly come from burnt structures. There's also vegetation, gases, and other materials within wildfire smoke. It's polluted enough to make anyone ill.
Some people are particularly susceptible to wildfire smoke. Those with asthma, respiratory illness, COPD, or heart disease are the most at risk. Pregnant women and children also have an increased risk of complications.
Signs that wildfire smoke inhalation has occurred include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Raw throat
- Eye irritation
- Runny nose
- Chest pain
- Rapid heartbeat
Asthma attacks are also possible if you breathe in wildfire smoke. If you or anyone in your home has asthma, you must have an extra inhaler in your emergency first aid kit.
Once the wildfire is under control, you still have to be cautious. The fine particles of wildfire smoke can linger in the air for weeks. Until the air clears, homeowners should take additional measures to purify the air inside. This includes regularly changing your air filters.
Best Air Filter For Smoke
Evacuating an affected area for at least three days is the best way to avoid wildfire smoke inhalation. However, it’s important to follow recommendations from your local authorities, especially if there is a chance of an evacuation order.
You can also prepare in advance to prevent wildfire smoke from entering your home. The best thing you can do is choose an HVAC air filter capable of filtering smoke from the air. Some air filters are designed to filter smoke, although they typically address cigarette and kitchen smoke.
Here are some of the best air filters in the market:
Activated Carbon Air Filters - The activated carbon in these air filters attracts odor-producing particles like smoke.
MERV 11 and 13 Air Filters - Air filters with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating of 11 and 13 can remove smoke particles from the air. Anything below that may not be sufficient for any type of smoke.
Air Conditioner Settings
Your air conditioner setting matters when managing smoke in your home. When an HVAC system is set to recirculate the air, it allows the air filter to purify the inside air without drawing in more polluted air from the outside. You should also keep the air conditioner in the "on" setting rather than "auto" to allow the air to circulate continuously.
Best Air Filter For Fire Smoke
Wildfires are natural disasters that have far-reaching effects. Anyone can find themselves dealing with wildfire smoke at some point in their lives because smoke and ash travel for thousands of miles. That’s why proper HVAC practices are crucial during fire season. The correct ventilation and air filtration practices can help homeowners effectively manage smoke in their homes. That’s why air filters are the first line of defense against smoke inhalation.
A MERV 13 air filter is the best option for fire smoke. An air filter with a MERV 13 rating can filter out the fine particles of wildfire smoke without restricting airflow. That’s crucial for comfort and can help your HVAC system function well when the air conditioner is in recirculate mode. Some experts recommend MERV 13 or higher, but going for a much higher version could be problematic unless the filter is only used short-term and while wildfire smoke is still a threat.
Do air conditioners filter wildfire smoke?
They can, but it all depends on the air filter used. High-filtration air filters like MERV 11 and MERV 13 filter out smoke particles more effectively than lower MERV ratings. To remove smoke from your indoor air, make sure to use a MERV 11 filter or higher.
What is in wildfire smoke?
Wildfire smoke consists of various gases and fine particles from plant and building materials that have been burned. These particles can be dangerous and even carcinogenic to humans, which is why smoke inhalation needs to be taken seriously.
How far can wildfire smoke travel?
Climatologists dread wildfires because the smoke can travel around the world. During a large-scale wildfire, air currents can carry the smoke anywhere. That’s why everyone should consider using high-filtration air filters and air purifiers in homes, stores, businesses, and offices.