What Now?

After the Smoke, C’est Toi

Open the windows, go for a walk, pick some produce—but read our guide first.

By Julia Silverman September 19, 2020

Look! Up in the sky! There are clouds up there. And blue sky in our forecast too.

This was the week when all of Portland became obsessed with checking the various online air quality indices, just as fervently as our once and future focus on COVID trackers and (for some of us) electoral college projections.

Fingers crossed, and thanks to that giant thunder and lightning storm that woke up half the city early Friday morning, this particular obsession can be short-lived. 

So, with better air quality forecast for the metro area this weekend and beyond (including, possibly, some sunshine and honest-to-goodness blue sky on Sunday), what’s the first thing a cooped-up Portlander should do after 10 days of indoor time? 

You might think it is to open your windows, and let some fresh air into your house (and throw out the dirty, nasty filter that’s been collecting smoke particles all week long.)  

But before you fling open the windows, says Brooke Edmunds, an associate professor and extension community horticulturist at Oregon State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, consider wiping around the perimeter of exterior windows with a damp cloth, to gently wash away any accumulated ash that is still clinging on post-rainstorm. 

That will ensure that ash doesn’t accidentally blow into your home, Edmunds says. The same applies to any high-touch areas of your yard—garbage cans, mailboxes, kids’ play structures. Take a minute to wipe it down so that toxic particles don’t make their way into your house (or into the mouths of babes.) 

And please, Edmunds says, resist the temptation to use your leaf blower, which might seem like a quick way to remove ash, but in reality has the potential to kick it all back up into the air, and into your face. Speaking of which, all these tasks should be accomplished while wearing your mask, preferably a more airtight N-95 if you can find one, but a KN-95 mask will work too.  

As for the garden, the last gasps of summer tomatoes, zucchini, and basil are still out there, ready for the picking. The rain should have cleared off most of the ash that accumulated on fruits and vegetables, though very permeable ones, like fall raspberries, may regretfully have to go to the compost bin. For the rest, Edmunds says, make sure to give them a good rinse indoors and a peel when possible, and you’ll be fine.  

Perhaps you want to go for a walk now that it’s safe to leave the house without having your eyes, nose, and throat feel like they are on fire? Stick to the sidewalks—parks and natural spaces around the city of Portland are still closed, under Mayor Ted Wheeler’s emergency declaration which is currently in effect until September 24. That’s because there’s still danger of another wildfire breaking out. 

(Portland Monthly asked the mayor’s office whether this could be lifted sooner if the air is clear and the sun is out before then, but we have not yet heard back from the mayor’s spokesman.) 

Many recreation areas around the state—including the Mount Hood National Forest—are closed, too, particularly given the threat of flash-floods and landslides. 

All told: It seems like a good weekend to take a walk around the neighborhood and sit on the porch with a good book. May we recommend “My Own Words” by the late, great Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg? 

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