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Forest Fires in California, plus Health Hazards of Smoke and HEPA Air Purifier to Manage It

RECOMMENDED: Get IQAir HEPA air filter @AMAZON ASAP while you still can. More on IQAir HEPA filters further below.

Update, August 23 @ 19:30 : We're losing the smoke battle. With 4 IQAir air purifiers each capable of 300 cfm per minute (the best, medical grade, bought 'em 10-15 years ago) and all windows sealed, the house is still starting to smell inside. We are effectively locked down, with hazardous air outside and blue smoke thick in the air just 80 feet out. Maybe the wind will shift tomorrow...

All of us have headaches now, and eyes and noses are becoming irritated (indoors!). My lungs are slightly impaired now also. It is now a serious health issue and there is nowhere to go. Soon we'll all need to wear N100 masks inside the house; I might sleep with one if I can. We have only one per family member in reserve and due to COVID-19 we cannot obtain more.

Dry-lightning started hundreds of fires in northern California about 5 days ago. My daughter and I saw the first of these early last week, east of Mono Craters near Lee Vining (east of Sierra Nevada). We largely avoided the smoke, but had to drive through some nasty stuff for a short time and sleep in the van with windows sealed one night.

As we drove home to the San Francisco Bay Area, we saw more lightning-strike fires, with a dark pall of smoke over the central valley (Manteca area) coming from a huge fire near Livermore. Then again near my home—all in one day coming, all from the same storm.


Smoke Plume from Santa Cruz area wildfire
f2.8 @ 1/60 sec, ISO 32; 2020-08-18 19:39:23
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus 6.6 mm f/2.8 @ 57mm equiv (6.6mm)

[low-res image for bot]

Ironically, air in the Sierra Nevada had been the cleanest in years due to daily thunderstorms, with crystal-clear skies. It was awesome for 10 days or so.

But here at home, fires are burning to the north an south. The fire to the south is 10-15 miles or so away, which is way too close for comfort—a strong wind can eat up many miles of territory in a single day.

Air quality at our place

Air quality aside, my thoughts are turning to what to throw into our car and my van, should we have to evacuate. One new lightning strike in the wrong place...

2020-08-23 Red Flag Warning

Affected Area: San Francisco Bay Shoreline Description ...

RED FLAG WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 5 PM PDT MONDAY FOR DRY LIGHTNING AND GUSTY ERRATIC OUTFLOW WINDS OVER EXISTING WILDFIRES... AFFECTED AREA... IMPACTS...Increased likelihood for new fire starts with any lightning. Erratic gusty outflow winds may result in dangerous and unpredictable fire behavior.

We’ve watched a huge plume of smoke to the southwest mostly blow away from us during mid-day to midnight, then as the wind changes, acrid smoke intrudes.

But today August 23 starting around midnight the smoke moved in, and it is now thick with yellow/orange sunset-tone lighting, and nasty acrid smoke outside.

Update: AQI at my home of 405 is is 3.2X worse than the worst air quality in the world today. It hit 540 later in the day, then settled back down to the 430 range.

2020-08-23: air quality index (AQI) of 405 at my home — hit 540 later in the day
N100 particulate respirator for exercise in smoky conditions

Health and air

The psychological aspects of having to evacuate one’s home in the face of a forest fire threat are awful, and the loss of one’s home even worse—my heart goes out to anyone affected. But assuming survival, the next thing is avoiding long-term health effects from dangerous air quality (smoke). Toxins enter the bloodstream from the lungs (and skin) and can remain. And ultra-fine smoke particles can lodge in the lungs and never come out.

Bad air quality and especially dense smoke degrades all systems in the body, but especially the respiratory system and cardiovascular system. Toxins enter the bloodstream directly via the lungs, which causes further damage. Pregnant mothers and young children should be especially concerned, and with COVID-19 running around, a weakened body from smoke could be a nasty multiplier.

Accordingly, your smart move is stay indoors and keep the air as clean as possible. That is, if you have electricity* to run an air cleaner.

If you cannot keep the air clean or must go out: the useless COVID mask that the feckless medical establishment deems OK will NOT protect you: you MUST wear a properly sealed N95 or N100 or P100 respirator, preferably a P100, which also blocks airborne oils. Of course, you can’t really get them anymore, which is outrageous.

* The irresponsible jackasses running California cannot keep the lights on, due to 'green' policy that has shuttered dozens of fossil-fuel plants (mostly natural gas) over the past decade. When the sun goes down and it’s still 105°F, everyone still needs the power to run air conditioning. These feckless assholes have turned California into a 3rd-world country, with rolling killer blackouts. These people are killers: at-risk people can DIE when the electricity is cut off.

HEPA air filters — a HUGE range of effectiveness

I am not going to recommend a 2nd-rate or 3rd-rate product here—do it right or forget about it. If you think you can read a specifications sheet and make a decision that way, or understand all the issues around efficiency, recirculated air patterns (filtering the same air over and over), fan noise, filter life, true performance, durability, etc, then go ahead and learn the hard way. Or you can get a medical grade filter that you will see in doctor's offices and that I know works having used them for ~15 years.

IQAir HyperHEPA GC MultiGas Air Purifier

We are running four medical-grade HEPA air filters constantly now and the smoke is still creeping in (the house is old and somewhat leaky). So the air is getting bad inside now too. My chest hurts a little and I have a headache now—maybe that’s a coincidence and maybe not but I’ve not had such an issue for weeks.

If we lose electricity* (it takes ~1.2 kW to runs those cleaners), it’s going to be awful. We don’t have air-conditioning, so it’s going to be an indoor barbecue experience should we lose electricity*.

Many claimed HEPA filters are either toys that don’t work very well, or have capacity so small that they can deal with something the size of a closet—don’t waste your money on such things.

I recommend the IQAir HEPA air filters @AMAZON, as I have used them for ~15 years now with great results. They are highly effective. I recommend adding the activated charcoal filter ("gas and odor") for smoky conditions. They are great for all conditions, but critical for severely impaired air quality. They have 99.5% filtration, compared a lot of faux-HEPA filters that can be as low as 37% efficiency—you get what you pay for, don’t be suckered into an ineffective product.

But it’s a lot more complicated than one rating—what happens to the truly dangerous particles, the “ultrafiles” that go right the bloodstream (e.g. smoke and smoke particles)? Most all purifiers are SILENT on this issue, but see the claims below from IQAir, right down to 0.003 microns — that’s 100X smaller (linearly) than 0.3 microns, which means particles a million times smaller in volume*.

Manufacturers of ordinary air filtration systems claim that their systems filter particles larger than 0.3 microns. IQAir's HyperHEPA filtration is proven and certified to filter at least 99.5% of all particles down to 0.003 microns - the smallest that exist... including bacteria and viruses.

* V = 4/3πr^3, diameter of 300 nanometers vs 3 nanometers eg (300/2)^3 / (3/2)^3 = 150^3 / 1.5 ^3 = 1000000 (one million times difference in spherical volume).

Get IQAir HEPA air filter @AMAZON (most other sites backordered/sold out as I write this). Given that it’s smoke which also smells bad, consider the medical-grade IQAir GC MultiGas Air Purifier HyperHEPA @AMAZON.

Not even a virus gets through HyperHEP
Only IQAir's exclusive HyperHEPA filtration technology can stop ultrafine particles down to 0.003 microns - 10x smaller than a virus!Independent testing verifies that IQAir HyperHEPA filtration stops at least 99.5% of all particles down to 0.003 microns for unequaled protection against fine and ultrafine particles, including bacteria and viruses.

Ultrafine particles are smaller than 0.1 microns in diameter and comprise about 90% of all airborne particles. The tiny size enables them to be easily inhaled, deposited into the lungs and absorbed directly into the bloodstream. From there, they travel to all vital organs, including the brain. Viruses, smoke and diesel soot are all ultrafine particles.

Manufacturers of ordinary air filtration systems claim that their systems filter particles larger than 0.3 microns. IQAir's HyperHEPA filtration is proven and certified to filter at least 99.5% of all particles down to 0.003 microns - the smallest that exist.*

* While typical HEPA air filtration systems are only certified to filter particles large than 0.3 microns, IQAir HyperHEPA filtration is proven and certified to filter at least 99.5% of all particles down to 0.003 microns, 100 times smaller than what's captured by ordinary HEPA filters.

Below, this is looking like good air quality compared to what came later in the day.

Acrid smoke hanging in air
f1.8 @ 1/1250 sec, ISO 20; 2020-08-23 14:33:12
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus 4.0 mm f/2.8 @ 28mm equiv (4mm) ENV: altitude 504 ft / 154 m

[low-res image for bot]
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