We noticed something a bit strange yesterday as we drove into RZ Headquarters. The typically crisp, clear Minneapolis skyline was unusually hazy. Being the air quality enthusiasts that we are, we conducted a little research to see what was happening to our air. Turns out, wildfire smoke from Kansas was passing through and significantly raised our air quality index. Our air was affected enough for The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to issue an air pollution advisory for parts of Minnesota.
Fires this early in the year seemed strange, so we dug a little deeper and what we found wasn’t pretty. Recently, fires are starting earlier in the season and their frequency is increasing. In the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Manitoba, twice as many fires were recorded last year than their 25-year averages. This year, fire season started on March 1, a month ahead of the norm.
Fires have become a continual threat in some places, burning earlier and later in the year, in the United States and abroad. The 10.1 million acres that burned in the United States last year were the most on record, and the top five years for acres burned were in the past decade. The federal costs of fighting fires rose to $2 billion last year, up from $240 million in 1985.
According to the New York Times, a leading culprit is climate change. Drier winters mean less moisture on the land, and warmer springs are pulling the moisture into the air more quickly, turning shrub, brush and grass into kindling. Decades of aggressive policies that called for fires to be put out as quickly as they started have also aggravated the problem. Today’s forests are not just parched; they are overgrown.
Across North America, fire departments are gearing up for a big wildfire season and you should be too. Wild fire smoke isn’t something we want to be breathing in too much of. The smoke contains fine microscopic particles that can get into our eyes and respiratory system causing health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses such as bronchitis. Fine particles also can aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases - and even are linked to premature deaths in people with these conditions.
Children also are more susceptible to smoke for several reasons: their respiratory systems are still developing; they breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults; and they're more likely to be active outdoors.
It's important to limit your exposure to smoke, especially if you may be susceptible. Here are some steps you can take to protect your health during wildfire season: Pay attention to local air quality reports. Limit physical activities outdoors when AQI is high. Take steps to keep indoor air as clean as possible. Wear a mask when applicable.
Trusted by wild land firefighters across North America, RZ Masks are an excellent source of wildfire smoke protection. Our active carbon filters are designed to filter particulates down to 0.1 microns. Paper dust masks - the kinds you commonly can buy at the hardware store - are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks generally will not protect your lungs from the fine particles in smoke.
If you’re living or visiting somewhere that’s affected by wildfire smoke this year make sure you take proper steps to protect yourself, especially if you belong to one of the susceptible groups. It also doesn’t hurt to try a rain dance here and there.