Monday, 9 December 2019


Where we live we are mercifully unaffected by bushfires - we've had a reasonable amount of rain, and while things are definitely drying out the fire risk is no worse than usual.

I take comfort from the fact that despite some near misses, the town has not been directly affected by fire since European settlement, which is near enough 170 years.

However, what we are getting is smoke.

Smoke blown down from the fires around Sydney. Most of the time we've had winds from the south, and the air's been reasonably clear, but today the wind's swung round to the north and we're already getting smoke. Not as bad as on the horror day three or four weeks ago, when you could see a blue haze in the street outside, but bad enough with the smoke haze obscuring the hills around.

So, what to do?

Well, earlier this year, in August, we decided to flee the cold for a couple of weeks and drive up to Maleny in Queensland where we rented a cottage for a week.

Driving up was a cold experience, freezing temperatures, snow flurries between Tamworth and Armidale, but Maleny was pleasantly warm.

On the way back we had a couple of days being cultural in Brisbane, and the drove down the coast with the aim of a couple of days in Port Macquarie.

When we got there, Port Macquarie was still shrouded in smoke from the Lindfield Road peat fire, and while an onshore winds meant that it didn't affect us much, when the wind dropped you could smell the smoke, and if you blew your nose you got a kleenex full of black snot like you sometimes get in London (or Bangkok, or indeed the dreaded Singapore Haze).

An experience I'd describe as more tacky than dangerous, but it did start to make me think about what we would do if we were badly affected by smoke, given that J is asthmatic, and despite being very fit earlier in my life I seem to be more affected by smoke and dust as I get older.

Now the problem is not so bad that we need an air purifier but we certainly need to be better informed. We could of course buy our own air quality monitor - they're something between eighty and a hundred dollars on ebay, but the individual state environmental monitoring agencies have monitoring stations in Albury (NSW) and Wangaratta (Victoria) both about 40km away and lower down than we are, but probably good enough as an indicator of a developing problem:

There's a number of apps out there that can access the environmental monitoring data, so, for the moment I settled on downloading an app that lets us check the air quality when we're out and about. I chose Airmatters as I liked the way the data was presented.

The other thing I did was buy a pair of good quality Chinese made filter masks, similar to those that you  see people wearing on bad air days in Singapore.

I chose to buy these softer, flexible masks as I thought they'd be more comfortable to wear. We already have a pair of industrial masks with replaceable pm25 filters from when we were doing a lot of sanding and plastering during home renovations and I can tell you that, while effective, they're extremely uncomfortable to wear long term, especially on a hot sticky summer's day. That and they make you look like Darth Vader.

I also have a pack of disposable pm25 masks that I picked up somewhere, but there's a problem - they're made for builders.

I can get them to fit reasonably well on my face, but J, who has a small face, can't get a decent seal, and remember, unless they fit properly you might as well not bother.

As you'd expect, there's a lot of people out there trying to make a buck out of the current air quality problems in Sydney and Canberra and asking silly prices, but I managed to get a pair of reasonable ones with replaceable filters for about 10 bucks from ebay, and at that price they're cheap enough to leave in the bushfire/storm panic box until they're needed.

Hopefully we'll never need them, but at least we've got them if we do ...

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