How to cope with all the smoke.

San Francisco Skyline Wildfire
Courtesy of Getty Images

Dear friends in New York and all over the East Coast,

With smoke from Canadian wildfires blanketing the East Coast, turning the sky yellow (whoa!), the sun deep orange, and the moon purple, you’ve now entered into a world that we out West experience a lot. We fully acknowledge that this is dangerous and bad, and the Air Quality Index (AQI) is dangerously high, and the atmosphere fairly apocalyptic, but as we at Sunset have learned over the past decade or two, life does go on… with some modifications and adjustments. It goes without saying if you have respiratory illnesses or are a member of a sensitive group that is at increased risk due to poor air quality, you should stay inside. Here are some ways that we’ve been coping over the years, and how you can too:

Break out Those N95 Masks Again

Those N95 masks that we wore during the height of the pandemic are also effective during wildfire season. According to the California Department of Public Health, when properly fitted, these masks can filter 95% of smoke particles. (But they won’t filter toxic gases, vapors, or the smell of smoke.)

Get (or Make) an Air Purifier

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To keep the smoke levels manageable within your home, you’ll want to invest in an air purifier. They trap particles and eliminate odors. (Keep that smoky smell off your furniture and clothes!) We use the Coway Airmega Purifier in our office.

If all the air purifiers sell out like toilet paper did during the early days of the pandemic, you can make your own by taping an air conditioner filter over a cheap box fan and it will jankily do roughly the same job for a fraction of the price.

And once the smoke has cleared out it’s great for seasonal allergies!

Coway Airmega Purifier

Courtesy of Amazon

Coway Airmega AP-1512HH(W) True HEPA Purifier, $230

Yes, Those Migraines and Headaches Can Suck More

Poor air quality and higher pollution (aka that smoky air) can exacerbate these conditions. If you know you’re prone to headaches and migraines, try to stay inside as much as possible, wear a mask if you go outside, and turn that air purifier on. Keep track of how you’re feeling and if something feels off, contact a healthcare professional.

Your Plants Will Muddle Through

We’re accustomed to waking to a fine layer of dust on our hedges, trees, and flowers. Never once have we lost one our plant pals to wildfire smoke. But you should spray them down with a hose once in a while to let them breathe easy and for photosynthesis to do its job when the sun finally comes out again.

Don’t Even Bother Washing Your Car

New Yorkers, don’t worry about this one. It’s okay to not have a spotless car during wildfire season. Your vehicle will continue to accumulate a layer of fine, gray particulate matter, so heading to the car wash will be a waste of money right now.

Keep Your Air Conditioner on Recirculation Mode

Make sure your air conditioners in your house and car don’t bring in any of that air from the outside. The EPA says if you have an HVAC system with a fresh air intake, set the system to recirculate, or close the outdoor intake damper. Don’t forget to keep your doors and windows closed! In your car, look for the button with the swirly arrow on it.

Check the AQI Like You Check Instagram

Keep an eye on the U.S. AQI. The EPA has set up an index for reporting air quality, with values of 0 to 500: 0 to 50 is Good; 51 to 100 is Moderate; 101 to 150 is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups; 151 to 200 is Unhealthy; 201 to 300 is Very Unhealthy; and 301 and higher is Hazardous. Exposure to poor air quality can cause headaches, irritated eyes and sinuses, fatigue, difficulty breathing, chest pains, asthma attacks, an irritated throat, and increased coughing.

Reminder: Everything’s Going to Be Fine

It’s just going to be worse than it used to be, but if you take certain precautions and avoid exposure as much as you can, you can get through it!

Anyways, welcome to this very unfortunate club. Of course, for us, we have the Chez Panisse-worthy produce, mountains and beaches, laid-back vibes, and mild winters to make up for the smoky hardship. If you want those, well, you know what you need to do.

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