Defending Yourself & Family Against Wildfire Smoke

Jeremiah Owyang
6 min readSep 23, 2020


By Jeremiah Owyang and Beth Kanter, Sept 22, 2020

Written by friends Jeremiah Owyang and Beth Kanter, both long term SF bay area residents, both who have experienced multiple years of wildfire smoke in suburbia. We haven’t seen a centralized list written from a resident’s perspective and centralized it here. We’ve observed that our friends in the Pacific Northwest and beyond are now experiencing smoke, and wanted to pass on the knowledge in the spirit of community.


I don’t have much time, just tell me what to do, stat!

  1. Seal off your home: start with painters tape.
  2. Obtain a smoke-rated Air Purification system, or build one.
  3. Obtain N95 or other smoke-rated masks.
  4. Stay inside.


  • Wildfires are becoming common. Not just in Northern California but now also in Oregon and Washington.
  • Get informed: In addition to several causation factors (NPR), Wildfires are getting worse in part due to Climate change.
  • Many of the homes built in these regions were not built to be smoke-ready.
  • Here’s a handy list that you can share with others, print out, in order to keep safe.
  • We didn’t see a centralized list, written from residents, so we put this together.


  • 🔥 Smoke causes damage to lungs, brain, can shorten breath, raise risk of respiratory illness including COVID — some people are more at risk than others.
  • 🔥 In the SF bay area, we were covered in smoke and the power was shut off, meaning that air purifiers were no longer functioning, and food was spoiling in the refrigerator and freezer.
  • 🔥 Health impacts experienced soon after exposure or years later. Ranges from short-term which is eye/throat irritation, to long-term diseases such as respiratory disease and cancer.


  1. Government Alerts: Ready.Gov.
  2. Understanding Air Quality Index (AQI) data
  3. PurpleAir.
  4. IQAir Real Time Map.
  5. Wind Apps: Windy.Com.
  6. Air Filter Ratings: MERV ratings (chart from Grainger)
  7. Fire Maps: California Government Fire Map.
  8. Fire Maps: Northwest Interagency Fire Map.


Get these now, as, during the crisis, they will likely be sold out, and over-priced.

Air Purification Appliances:

  1. Medical Grade System: IQAir (expensive but lasts a long time).
  2. Best Rated Air Purifiers of 2020.
  3. Consumer Reports Recommendations.
  4. NYT’s WireCutter Recommendations.
  5. Low-Cost Solutions, Build your own using a box fan and standard home air filter.
  6. Further details below

Air Filters for Central Air/HVAC/Air Conditioning:

  1. Merv 12 or higher, Where to purchase.

Indoor AQI monitors:

  1. Review of Indoor AQI Monitors 2020.
  2. Handheld Air Monitors from Temtop.

Personal Supplies:

  1. N95 Masks
  2. Food, water, first aid, and the usual emergency supplies.


Think of your home as a boat, focus on sealing the leaks in your vessel, in addition to getting a water pump “air purifier”; as both are needed.

First, Use AQI monitor to identify leaks or your nose:

Use Painters tape, or Gorilla tape for the below:

  1. Areas where smoke has leaked in our experience:
  2. Bathroom vents/fans may leak smoke.
  3. Kitchen range hood fan may leak smoke.
  4. Fireplaces.
  5. Windows.
  6. Skylights.
  7. Recessed in-ceiling Lighting.
  8. Recessed in-ceiling Speakers.
  9. Doors.
  10. Trapdoors to attics and crawlspaces.
  11. Garage vents.
  12. Dryer vents.
  13. Mailbox slots connected to home or garage.
  14. Floorboards
  15. Gaps between walls and floorboards
  16. Fireplaces, use large cardboard to seal off, and tape off on edges.


  1. For your central air units, you can upgrade to a stronger filter. Do note, this may reduce total airflow and you will still need air purifier appliances.
  2. If possible, set HVAC AC to recirculate vs auto.
  3. The best scenario is having both a central air system and an air purifier appliance.
  4. During power outage, consider pre-purchasing a generator or backup battery system.


  1. Monitor rooms, many find that some leak more than others, use this time to identify leak and seal off.
  2. Reduce your risks of Carbon Dioxide Poisoning: Carbon Dioxide Monitor
  3. Limit the use of cooking range to reduce indoor air pollution (cooking is the biggest source of indoor air pollution)
  4. Power shut off preparation
  5. Determine how does one get fresh air on a periodic basis
  6. Pro tip: Using a bathroom or kitchen fan, may create “negative air pressure” which sucks in outside air from unseen cracks in-home, drawing in smoke, exasperating issues. The downside: risk of mold, or cooking fumes stuck in the home.


  1. Upgrade your central air with a smoke-rated MERV filter.
  2. If you have in-ceiling can lights, ensure they are sealed with insulation foam to avoid smoke from entering, most likely on the top floor, See Youtube Video.
  3. Ensure your bathroom and kitchen vents are one-way vents, see video.
  4. Check seals and weatherstrips on all entry doors, garage doors, and window seals, see videos.
  5. Backup power, batteries, powerwalls, solar, to continue to power air purifiers.


  1. Clean the ash from your dwelling and property. Wear gloves, and cover-up skin, and hose off all items, reports the EPA.
  2. To remove ash in your home, use rags, damp rags, rather than dry-brooming, or vacuuming which spread the toxic materials.
  3. Wash the car using PH balanced soap, or take to a car wash. Ash and water can cause permanent damage to the paint, reports the Sonoma Tribune.
  4. Change Filter: Air Purifier Filters
  5. Change Filter: Central Air Filter for home
  6. Change Filter: Car Cabin Air Filter in the car, there are YouTube videos for how to change this for every make and model.


There are numerous ways to help others:

  1. Don’t donate unsolicited food items or clothing
  2. Be wary of scams by verifying on GuideStar
  3. Grantmakers in California Partnership list of vetted funds.
  4. List of vetted volunteer needs.
  5. Highly rated nonprofits providing relief efforts.
  6. Find Food banks, near you.
  7. Foster animals from local animal rescue organizations.


  1. Red Cross provides food, shelter and relief supplies.
  2. Baby2Baby is distributing essential baby supplies to families.
  3. The California Fire Foundation provides immediate short-term relief to victims by handing out $250 gift cards.
  4. The Latino Community Foundation provides support for Latino-led organizations that are helping Latino and immigrant families.
  5. Open Homes by Airbnb matches hosts with disaster victims and relief workers in need of a safe place to stay.
  6. World Central Kitchen’s relief team is providing meals to emergency workers and people affected.
  7. Red Rover shelters and cares for animals during national disasters and reunites them with their owners.


  • Sign up for power outage alerts from the local power company (PG&E -CA).
  • Full charge of mobile devices.
  • Practice open and closing your garage door manually.
  • Fill your car with gas.
  • Have cash in small bills in case of ATM not available.
  • Keep freezer and fridge doors closed.
  • Turn off/disconnect electronics to avoid damage if power surge when power returns.
  • Have food supplies that do not require refrigeration, get ice for medicines.
  • Backup generator for medical devices.
  • Go to the community center (if safe to do so) for purified air.
  • After the power comes back on, dispose of defrosted food to avoid food poisoning.
  • More tips from PG&E.


We both wish you both safety and comfort, please share this article with others.

Submissions or Corrections:

Blue skies will return, if this document was helpful, share it with others.(photo credits from pexels)