California Wildfire Smoke: Where to Get Air Masks as Cities Start Handing Out Particulate Freebies

The wildfires currently raging across the state of California are producing vast amounts of smoke, significantly affecting air quality in many areas.

The situation is so bad in some locales that authorities are giving away free masks to help minimize health risks.

Smoke from the devastating Camp Fire in Butte County—which has claimed at least 29 lives, making it the joint deadliest in California history—is causing unhealthy conditions across much of the Bay Area, according to the local Air Quality Management District. The situation is expected to persist until Tuesday.

"Heavy smoke from the Camp Fire in Butte County is causing very elevated levels of particulate pollution in the region, especially in the North and East Bay," a statement from the Air Quality Management District read. "A high-pressure system in place over Northern California and northeasterly winds are quickly moving smoke into the region and trapping it at the ground level, causing significant air quality impacts."

Air quality in Daly City, immediately south of San Francisco, is currently at "unhealthy" levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In response, authorities are providing breathing masks at City Hall for residents that need protection.

The City of South San Francisco—where air quality is similarly affected—is also providing masks, which can be obtained at both SSF public libraries, the Magnolia Center and the SSF Parks and Recreation Department. In addition, California State University in Chico, which lies right next to the Camp Fire, is handing out masks to its students.

Flames from a wildfire burn a portion of Griffith Park in Los Angeles, California, November 9, 2018. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

While not everyone has the same sensitivity to wildfire smoke, breathing it in can be damaging to health, according to the EPA.

"Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic materials burn," the EPA website states. "The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles. These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into your lungs. They can cause a range of health problems, from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases. Exposure to particle pollution is even linked to premature death."

Some people are particularly at risk from poor air quality caused by fire smoke, such as those with heart or lung disease, children (including teenagers), diabetics and pregnant women. It is especially important to pay attention to local air quality reports if you belong to one of these groups (or if you care for children).

In areas with "unhealthy" levels of pollution, the EPA recommends that those who are more at risk should avoid strenuous outdoor activities, keep outdoor activities short and consider moving physical activities indoors or rescheduling them. Everyone else should choose less strenuous activities and shorten the amount of time you are active outdoors.

In the city of Sacramento, air quality is currently particularly bad, with the EPA rating it as "very unhealthy." Masks will be available at all fire stations in the city—with the exception of the currently closed Station 16, The Sacramento Bee reports.

While air quality in the Los Angeles area is not as bad as many parts of the Bay Area, winds are spreading smoke from the Woolsey Fire, meaning those who are "unusually sensitive" to particle pollution should consider reducing their activity level or the amount of time spent outdoors.