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2023 Fire Safe Council Highlight: Community Clean Air Program

Yolo County Resource Conservation District (RCD) coordinates the Yolo County Fire Safe Council, a countywide collaborative that brings community members, agencies, and fire officials together to build wildfire resilience in Yolo County. In early 2023, the Yolo County Fire Safe Council received grant funding from the Fire Adapted Communities Network’s Community Clean Air Program. The funding was to support clean air access among vulnerable communities in Yolo County.

Mitigating wildfire smoke impacts is an important aspect of fire adaptation. With this in mind, the Yolo County Fire Safe Council elected to use the funding to assist agricultural workers in the county. Yolo County’s leading industry is agriculture. During wildfire season, agricultural workers often continue working through smoky conditions. Agricultural workers living in migrant community centers in Yolo County often lack access to air purification systems to improve indoor air quality in their homes. To help alleviate this gap in resources, Yolo County Fire Safe Council purchased 18 indoor air purification systems for families living in the Madison Migrant Center.

To assist with outreach and distribution, the Yolo County Fire Safe Council partnered with Catholic Charities of Yolo and Solano’s Disaster Services Program. Their staff has been building relationships with the residents of the three migrant community centers, which house agricultural workers and their families in Yolo and Solano counties.

The Madison Migrant Community Center resides in Madison, CA, a community at I-505 and Highway 16 outside of the Capay Valley, an area of the county that is classified as a high fire severity zone. Agricultural workers living in Madison often work in the Capay Valley and are impacted by wildfire smoke. Thanks to Catholic Charities, the 18 air purification systems with HEPA filters were distributed to families in need along with disaster preparation and emergency preparedness resources. Additionally, an air purification unit was distributed to the Woodland Senior Center for use in their community room.

What is a HEPA filter?

A HEPA filter is a type of pleated mechanical air filter. HEPA stands for “high efficiency particulate air” filter. These filters can remove 99.97% of air particles with a size of 0.3 microns or more. According to the EPA, wildfire smoke consists of particles that are smaller than 10 microns, requiring specialized filters to clean the air.

Wildfire smoke is comprised particle pollution (also referred to as particulate matter, or PM) which is a mixture of harmful solids and liquid droplets suspended in the air. Particles from wildfire can be as small as 2.5 microns (PM 2.5). For reference, a single strand of human hair is 50-70 microns. During a wildfire, the concentration of particles can sustainably increase in the air and sometimes can even be visible to the naked eye. Because these particles are so small, they can easily enter the nose and mouth and travel to the lungs.

HEPA filters are ranked based on their minimum efficiency reporting values, MERV. MERV values are one through sixteen and report a filter’s ability to capture particles between 0.3 microns and 10 microns. A HEPA filter with a MERV rating of 13 or higher is recommended to filter out particulate matter from wildfire smoke.

HEPA filters can be purchased for your home’s central air and heating systems and can placed directly in the system. However, be sure to check what MERV rated filter your system can handle. If your system is older, it may only be able to use filters with lower MERV ratings. If that is the case or if you lack central air and heating, consider purchasing a portable air filtration system with HEPA filters of MERV ratings 13 or higher.

If purchasing a portable air filter isn’t possible, DIY air filtration systems can be created using a HEPA furnace/HVAC system filter and attaching it to a box fan. To learn more, visit the resources below.


EPA’s Guide to Air Cleaners in the Home

EPA: Why Wildfire Smoke is a Health Concern

New York Time’s Wirecutter: How Can I Clear My Home of Wildfire Smoke?

UC Davis: How to Build a Corsi-Rosenthal Box