Public health officials have offered tips on how to breathe safely — from finding the right breathing mask to knowing when to use it — in parts of Southern California where multiple wildfires this week have left the air riddled in smoke.
A map from the Environmental Protection Agency shows an area just north of Los Angeles — near Ventura County where the Thomas Fire has burned over 100 square miles — that is marked red as it’s considered “unhealthy.”
“Everyone may begin to experience health effects,” the agency says of the red marker.
Smoke from the wildfires is “widespread” and visibility is limited due to the ash and smoke filling the air in cities such as Oxnard and Ventura, according to the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District.
Blankets of smoke could be seen hanging over parts of Los Angeles County as well, where firefighters are still battling the Creek Fire near Sylmar and the Skirball Fire that broke in the Bel-Air area Wednesday morning. Health officials warned of poor air quality in areas from the San Fernando Valley and Lake View Terrace to Malibu and Santa Monica, the L.A. Times reports.
The Ojai Valley and surrounding area have air that’s considered “very unhealthy” and “even reaching hazardous levels at times,” the Ventura air district added.
Those being affected by the smoke may experience symptoms such as “burning eyes, a runny nose, cough, phlegm, wheezing and difficulty breathing,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Tips to Breathe Safely
Wearing a mask is the most effective way to filter out harmful microscopic smoke particles that can penetrate the lungs, according to public health officials.
People in wildfire areas should wear masks that are not just simple dust masks, but actually respirators that can filter the air thoroughly and capture the tiniest of airborne smoke particles, according to the National Weather Service.
“Scarves or bandanas (wet or dry) won’t help, either,” the weather service explains on its website.
“Particulate masks known as N-95 or P-100 respirators will help, but they must fit well and be used correctly,” the service writes, adding that these masks can be bought at hardware and home repair stores.
Most public health officials recommend these specific masks, but the California Department of Public Health advises that those with heart or lung conditions ask a doctor before using one.
The Department also offers step-by-step instructions on how to choose the right mask and put it on correctly.
Some of the other recommendations offered by national, state and countywide officials include:
• Stay indoors if possible, particularly children, the elderly and those with heart or lung conditions.
• Run the air conditioner if you have one and keep fresh air inside by keeping all the windows and doors closed if possible. (Seek a shelter if this is not possible.)
• Avoid “vigorous exertion” indoors or outdoors, as Ventura County air pollution officials have warned.
People with heart and lung diseases may experience more severe breathing issues and symptoms, officials say.