September 15, 2020

Like many Californians during fire season, I’m currently obsessed with the Air Quality Index (AQI). I spend my day constantly checking to see what level we’re at, so I can decide whether it’s safe to talk a walk or whether just running to the grocery store requires an N95 mask to protect against the particulate matter in the air. Fortunately, I still had one of those masks (in a non-ventilated style so it also protects against COVID) left over from the last terrible wildfire season.

What’s unusual about my latest obsession is that it’s shared by my sister. She’s in a region of Oregon where she hasn’t had to deal with wildfire smoke before. Yet for the past week, her air quality has been far worse than mine. They’ve had days when the number reached over what I thought was the maximum of 500. That’s a hazardous level even for people inside.

Screenshot of weather app showing Portland, OR at 260 AQI

As an example, I looked up the current weather in Portland, OR. 

My sister and her fiancé put a filter in front of a box fan, set it in their living room, and left it overnight. By morning, the filter was brown. I shudder to think what the air is doing to their lungs.

Fortunately, things haven’t been quite as bad down here. Today was the first in several days where the AQI was low enough for me to venture out on a walk. I even have my windows open. My poor sister is still stuck indoors with unhealthy air quality.

Welcome to 2020. The disaster that never ends.

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