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C’mon baby light my fire…unless it’s an HPA day

Fire. It’s been around since the Early Stone Age. Ancient civilizations used fire for light, heat, cooking, making tools and keeping predator animals away. Fire was a fundamental and critical element of survival.

Today, we are learning more about the consequences of that ancient necessity as we burn wood just for the sake of ambiance. While there’s nothing more quixotic than a toasty, crackling fire in a fireplace, the side effects can wreak havoc on our lungs.

Smoke gets in your eyes…and lungs

We light a fire to celebrate, host a party, set the mood and fall in love. Maybe it’s best said by The Platters tune from their 1958 release of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes:

Fire in fireplace

They, said someday you’ll find

All who love are blind

When you’re heart’s on fire

You must realize

Smoke gets in your eyes

Just like falling in love, fire can pose a risk beyond the obvious. And where there’s fire, there’s smoke. Smoke is, unapologetically, bad news. From a scientific perspective, smoke is a mixture of gases and fine particles formed when wood and organic matter burn. It’s the fine particles, or particulate matter, in the smoke that poses a threat to our lungs.

Don’t it make my brown eyes blue…and my blue skies brown

Weather, you’re not so innocent, either. Stagnant, dry conditions combined with smoke from fireplaces, fire pits and even fireworks, colors our world—and our skies—from blue to brown. The dusky, blah-brown tinge to our skies is created by a couple of things. One, in the winter, we experience the temperature inversion when warmer air in the upper atmosphere traps the colder air near the earth. Basically, nothing escapes, keeping the pollutants from smoke, emissions or dust at ground-level. The second thing is that the particulate matter or fine particles from dust and smoke hang out and have no place to go when they’re not blowing in the wind.

Brown cloud over Phoenix commute

Then, when we are expected to approach or exceed the federal health standard for particulates, the highway signs light up asking drivers to not burn because the next day there’s an HPA. Some say they know when the air quality gets into threatening territory. Throat gets scratchy. Eyes burn. And then it gets worse. The tiny particulates, which are much finer (and not in a good way) than a strand of human air, get lodged in our lungs…permanently. Those tiny particles get absorbed into our blood and can decrease lung function. Those tiny, tiny particles create conditions that are ripe for an asthma attack, maybe even a heart attack.

Scare tactics aside, there’s something we can do about it and we’re not just blowing smoke.

Money, money, money…everyone gets the color of green

Fines, costly regulations and more measures to help thwart particulates will be thrust upon us should we fail to maintain EPA standards. While the health reasons are enough, financial penance adds to the metaphorical headache. So, what can you do to chase away those shades of particulate brown that takes negligible time, energy and money on your part?

  • Don’t burn wood. Set the mood by lighting a gas fireplace or a flameless candle.
  • Avoid dusty roads and off-highway vehicle use. Head to one of our local indoor racetracks if you feel the need for speed.
  • Skip the fireworks. After all, it’s just a bunch of pointless noise that drive your dogs crazy.

Puttin’ on the ritz…and the Super Bowl

So there’s another downside to brown skies that we haven’t even touched on yet. It’s that little thing called the Super Bowl. We are in a collective state of getting all dolled up, making plans, and basically puttin’ on the ritz.

Downtown, uptown, east, west, north and south…we are getting our game faces on for the big day. Please don’t let smoke from our ancient, manmade fires foul the air and soil our welcome mats.

Beautiful clear day in downtown Phoenix

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