Clearing the Air: What You Need to Know About Wildfire Season

Wildfires are becoming an increasingly devastating force that not only impacts property and life from the fires themselves, but the secondary effects of wildfires, including the tremendously negative impact they have on air quality, can even be more destructive.  And unfortunately, the situation is expected to get worse.

With dramatic and worldwide climate change, the predictions for wildfires have changed in recent years, migrating from a short window of time fueled by dry summer weather, to an almost year-round occurrence. Indeed, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, a group that monitors wildfire activity, recently amended its “wildfire profile,” switching from a truncated calendar of predictors to a full year’s worth of predictions.

That’s because two large winter wildfires in Colorado and California upended conventional thinking about the timeframe and conditions for wildfires. According to Cecile Juliette of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention, several years ago officials were comfortable referring to a “wildfire season”—a period from July to perhaps October, when fires were prevalent.  Now, however, she said, “it’s not really accurate to call it a fire season. CAL FIRE is trying to get away from calling it a fire season because that doesn’t make sense anymore. It’s really now more of a fire year.”

The Climate Prediction Center concurs, stating the wildfire season has extended to all year round, with drier conditions in arid states and shifts in climate brought about by global climate change. There are hotter overall temperatures, which create drought conditions and provide more kindling in a vicious cycle of burning and re-burning.

In addition, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts 60 percent of the continental United States will have moderate to severe drought in the spring into summer of 2022, making conditions ripe for wildfires. The area is the largest drought coverage since 2013.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention now is expecting extreme drought conditions throughout the spring of 2022; above normal temperatures will reduce moisture levels and significantly increase the risks of wildfires throughout 2022. Those dire warnings aren’t only applicable to California. In the first several months of the year, 13 states experienced wildfires, ranging from Arkansas to Florida.

According to a study published by the journal Geohealth, wildfire smoke now accounts for more than half the air pollution measured annually in the entire Western region. Worse, the pollution caused by the wildfires isn’t just smoke created by wood and tinder.

As the wildfires have spread, they encompass populated areas, with fire consuming houses filled with furniture, electronics, carpeting, and other things that emit volatile organic compounds and toxic chemicals when burned. For example, a study by the California Air Resources Board found high levels of lead and other metals were present in smoke from wildfires; levels of lead in the air is linked to elevated blood pressure in adults and developmental issues in children, based on long-term exposure.

Another issue regarding wildfire smoke and air pollution focuses on the amount of distance the smoke covers. Luke Montrose, an Assistant Professor of Community and Environmental Health at Boise State University’s Hazard and Climate Resilience Institute found a 2018 wildfire caused poisonous air to travel more than 150 miles, showing that more than immediate areas were at risk.

This travel, according to Montrose has additional implications. “The distance affects the ability of smoke to age, meaning to be acted upon by the sun and other chemicals in the air as it travels,” he says. “Aging can make it more toxic. Importantly, large particles like what most people think of as ash do not typically travel that far from the fire, but small particles, or aerosols, can travel across continents.”

That means people far from the actual fire can be adversely affected, comprising respiratory systems. The American Lung Association warns that wildfires “spread air pollution not only nearby, but thousands of miles away”.  Additionally, wildfire smoke can suppress a person’s immune system, making them more susceptible to disease and viruses.

To combat the effects of wildfire smoke, it’s important to filter indoor air, removing the harmful particulate from it. While some people may think existing HVAC systems are adequate, filtration needs to target the smallest particulate—something that typical HVAC filters can’t capture. Additionally, the potential of using HEPA filters in existing HVAC systems is not a solution, since such filters offer too much resistance on the system’s blower, actually causing a downgrade in airflow and circulation, which doesn’t alleviate the problem.

Instead, we advocate outfitting indoor spaces with commercial-grade Fellowes AeraMax Pro air purifiers. Our line of AeraMax Pro 3 and 4 air purifiers have a unique four-stage H13 True HEPA filtration system that effectively and efficiently removes up to 99.97 percent of airborne contaminants, like residual smoke from wildfires, as well as dust, allergens, viruses and more from indoor spaces. The air purifiers clean indoor air and provide up to five air changes per hour (ACH).

ACH is the rate in which indoor air in an enclosed space is completely recycled, making for fresher, cleaner air. The higher the rate, the more complete changes of air occur. Health care professionals suggest a good ventilation system will exchange the air at least three times an hour, while exceptional systems will exchange the air in an enclosed space five times per hour. For perspective, a home with one window open can expect roughly one air change per hour. Because AeraMax Pro air purifiers change air up to five times per hour, occupants can rest easy knowing clean air is provided to combat the effects of wildfire smoke.

Best yet, the units work to clean a room of other airborne contaminants even when there is no environmental crisis, offering occupants clean, fresh air continually. The units use an array of EnviroSmart™ patented self-regulating sensors, automatically monitoring a room to know when a room’s air needs cleaning, then leveling up to meet demand when needed and leveling back down to save energy when the airborne threat is eliminated.  In addition, Fellowes AeraMax Pro AM3PC and 4PC air purifiers feature Pureview™, a display which shows real-time updates on air quality and machine performance.  Also, our 2″ carbon filters provide enhanced performance with heavy odor capture on the AeraMax Pro 3 and AeraMax Pro 4.  With Fellowes Air Purifiers, residents, employees, staff, customers, and facility managers can breathe easier during these continual wildfire seasons.