Now that the air we breathe has become almost opaque over most of eastern Washington, it's not unusual to see people resorting to face masks trying to filter out some of the tiny smoke particles.
The Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency, whose web site is suddenly so popular that sometimes it can't handle all the internet traffic, warns of unhealthy air in the region at least through Thursday.
Air resource advisors for the Spokane and other public health agencies note that some respirator masks can provide a degree of protection against the fine particle smoke hovering in the air. But they point out that cheap face masks, such as dust masks used in shop work, are useless.
Respirator masks labeled N-95 or N-100 can be purchased at hardware stores or pharmacies for somewhere between $10-$20 a box of 20 masks.
An N-95 mask can filter out up to 95 percent of airborne particles, as long as it is tightly fitted across the face and nose - particles even tinier than the two-point-five micron size smoke particles that are now so prevalent.
The Washington Emergency Management agency has handed out thousands of the masks to hard-hit counties - about 5,000 of them in Ferry County, and 20,000 in Okanogan County. The Spokane clean air agency also has 13,000 N-95 masks on hand, but they're reserved to use in outlying areas if smoke conditions get even worse.
One caveat for the respirator masks - they're useless for men with facial hair because they can't fit tightly enough.