The city of Sacramento is offering its residents free respirator masks to deal with smoke and worsening air quality caused by the Camp Fire.
The fire, which started Thursday, has been steadily pushing smoke into the Sacramento region and raised the Air Quality Index number to 367 in some Sacramento neighborhoods Saturday. That is considered hazardous for all people regardless of age or physical health, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Respirator masks will be available at all city fire stations, said Daniel Bowers, the city’s director of emergency management. The one exception is station 16, which is currently closed.
“With the air quality as bad as it is from the Camp Fire, we felt this was the right time to make the masks available to anyone who wants one,” Bowers said in the press release.
The masks being provided by the city are approved by the EPA, carry an N-95 classification and are designed to protect the lungs from small particles found in wildfire smoke. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports paper “comfort” or “dust” masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust, and will not protect lungs in smoky weather.
N95 masks, however, are not recommended for prolonged use, according to a Sacramento County Public Health advisement sent Sunday.
“Prolonged use of N95 respirator mask can exacerbate symptoms in those with respiratory problems,” the warning says. “N95 respirator mask use by those with heart and respiratory diseases can be dangerous, and should only be done under a doctor’s supervision.”
Some fire stations have already run out of masks, Bowers said, but they were due to be resupplied Sunday evening. Bowers said that he expects all fire stations to have plenty of masks by 6 a.m. on Monday.
The city will distribute masks until supplies run out, though Bowers encouraged citizens to buy their own if they can, and leave the supply for those who may not be able to afford them. He said all fire stations are accepting donations of masks, as long as they are classified as N95 or N100.
Bowers said that the city has donated more than 1,000 masks to area homeless shelters Loaves and Fishes and Union Gospel Church.
“They spend a preponderance of their time outdoors,” Bowers said of the homeless population in Sacramento. “This is a good opportunity for them to be protected.”
Sacramento’s air quality is projected to remain classified as hazardous through Monday, according to the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District. The classification is expected to be upgraded slightly to unhealthy on Tuesday. Starting on Wednesday, the air quality will likely return to moderate levels.