Air Quality Advisories
See Also: Complaint Process
New: See video on Health Effects of Smoke. (Video is by the California Air Resources Board. Be sure to contact your health care provider if your symptoms worsen, and before using respirator equipment or masks.)
Smoke is a form of air pollution. It primarily consists of particulate matter but includes other gaseous air pollutants such as hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide. Exposure to all these air pollutants can cause health effects or aggravate existing health conditions. Every year millions of acres of land burn across the United States. Some of these fires are prescribed – set under controlled conditions to manage forests or agricultural lands. Others are wildfires started by lightning or humans.
How to protect yourself and your family from harmful effects of smoke, ash, and dust particles
It is hard to tell where ash or soot from a wildfire will go, or how winds will affect the level of dust particles in the air, so it is important to use your own judgment.
- If you smell smoke, or see a lot of particles and ash in the air, use common sense. Everyone, especially people with heart or lung disease (including asthma), older adults, and children, should limit time spent outdoors, and avoid outdoor exercise.
- If outdoor air is bad, try to keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep windows and doors closed – unless it’s extremely hot. Don’t use fireplaces, gas logs, or candles, don’t vacuum, don’t smoke, and don’t fry or broil foods in ways that produce a lot of smoke inside. For more information visit Indoor Air Quality and Health.
- If you have an air conditioner, run it with the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean. If you have a “whole house fan” turn it off when the air quality is poor, unless it’s extremely hot.
- If you have symptoms of lung or heart disease that may be related to exposure to smoke or particles, including repeated coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness or pain, palpitations, nausea or unusual fatigue or lightheadedness, call your doctor.
- When smoke is heavy for a prolonged period of time, fine particles can build up indoors even though you may not be able to see them. If you have heart or lung disease, are an older adult, or have children, talk with your doctor about whether and when you should leave the area.
- If ash is falling, avoid skin contact with ash, avoid stirring up particles through cleanup activities, and avoid exercising outdoors in areas with large amounts of ash. See below for ash cleanup tips.
- Prepare: go to the County Fire Department’s website and make a Wildfire Action Plan.
- When air quality improves, air out your home. Be prepared to close windows and doors again if air quality worsens.
- Avoid strenuous activity indoors when air quality is poor. Drink plenty of fluids.
- Minimize driving, and when you do drive, use the “recirculate” option on your vehicles’ air system, but be sure to air out your vehicle periodically.
- If air quality is poor for a prolonged period, consider going somewhere nearby where the air is cleaner for several hours, even if you can’t leave your home for a longer period.
- See our Tips for Cleaner Fireplace Burning.
To check particle pollution levels at the Santa Maria, Lompoc (H Street Station), Goleta and Santa Barbara stations, see Today’s Air Quality.
Cleaning up ash, soot, and dust
Note: Anyone with heart or lung problems should not do ash cleanup.
When houses burn, asbestos fibers from building materials may become airborne, creating a potentially hazardous situation. Cleanup can make conditions worse if not done properly. Handling materials that contain asbestos can be hazardous to your health. For more information see Asbestos and Fire Cleanup – Precautions.
- Use damp cloths, spray areas lightly with water, and direct ash-filled water to ground areas, and away from the runoff system. Try to use the minimum amount of water necessary to avoid overtaxing runoff systems.
- Use vacuums with HEPA filters, sweep gently with a broom.
- Take your car to the car wash.
- Wash off toys that have been outside in the ash; clean ash off pets.
- Avoid any skin contact with the ash (wear gloves, long-sleeved shirts).
- Use a high-quality shop/industrial vacuum outfitted with a high-efficiency particulate filter and a disposable collection filter bag. Ash can be bagged and put into trash cans, so it will not be stirred up again into the air. Special attachments can be used to clean ash from gutters, so that it will not blow back over outdoor spaces. Attachments and disposable bags are available from most hardware stores.
- Allow kids to play in the ash.
- Use leaf blowers! Click here to learn more about safe leaf blower use.
For more information…
- Information from the County Public Health Department, including fact sheets on preparing for wildfire, wildfire smoke, and talking to children about crises.
- California Air Resources Board Wildfire Smoke Guide (PDF File)
- InciWeb Incident Information System: a national resource for fire incident information, organized by state
- Los Padres National Forest information
- Wildland Residents Association, Inc.: fire information for Santa Barbara mountain communities
- Santa Barbara County Fire Department: information on Red Flag Alerts, and resources for residents
- California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection: information on fires and emergency response.
Contact Mary Byrd at 805-961-8833 with questions.