Carr-Fire California Breathing: Real Men Wear Protection

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In my new Carr-Fire reality, I wake up each morning and peer outside to see if my world is still standing. So far, it is, but I’m seeing my world through Carr-Fire smoke-colored glasses that mess with my brain.

Is that fog? Is it going to snow?

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Smoky drive into Redding. Photo by Aubrey Reagan.

Neither fog nor snow. It’s just Carr Fire smoke: Week 2 and counting.

I will not complain. I will not complain. I will not complain.

A horse sticks its nose into the smoky air on a Redding freeway. Photo by Karen Ball.

As I drove down Olive Street yesterday, my mood was darker than the smoke that has blanketed Redding since the Carr Fire erupted more than two weeks ago, when it hijacked our north state and brought with it death and destruction.

Smoky Miracle Mile. Photo by John Truitt.

Through the haze, I saw a shirtless man ahead, jogging down the street. I couldn’t believe my red, itchy eyes. I was astounded that anyone would run in this horrible smoke, except to escape flames. To my relief, as I drove closer, I saw he was wearing a mask.

I learned that his name is Paul. Obviously, Paul’s a smart man. He wears protection. When he runs.

Paul explained he’d eaten an In-N-Out Burger and a donut, all in the same day. Plus, he hadn’t done jujitsu, so, obviously, he went for a run.

Yes, of course … exactly as you or I would have done under the same circumstances.

No segue, but I have a friend who’s fighting depression because of the Carr Fire. She’s sinking deeply into feelings of sadness and helplessness.

I sent her the photo of Paul to cheer her up. She’s feeling much better now.

When I first encountered Paul, I’d just returned from the post office where I’d worn a mask from my car to the building and back again. I’ve not adapted to the mask. It still feels rather silly to me. As I approached the door, a young woman smiled and said hi. I smiled and said hi, too.

Then it hit me. She couldn’t see that I’d returned her smile.

“I smiled at you,” I said with a laugh. She laughed, too, and said she’d thought so. Maybe my eyes had crinkled and given it away.

I don’t like wearing face masks. I feel like I look old and weak, like an invalid. Besides, masks feel confining and they look goofy. They smear my lipstick when I remove them. Plus, those double elastic straps pull and twist and get tangled in my hair. I could go on and on with the reasons I don’t like face masks, but the No. 1 reason is that they are unattractive.

Even so, when it comes to my health, I force my vanity to shut up and sit down. I’ve had pneumonia, and am prone to bronchitis, so I want to protect my lungs. I don’t want 2018 to be known for me as the year of the Carr Fire, and the year I wrecked my lungs.

Frankly, when I’m out and about in Redding’s smoky air, I’m surprised that the majority of people I see walking around outside do not wear masks, which might be fine for them. Maybe they have no issues to worry about. Maybe they have lungs of steel.

Smoky north state hillsides. Photo by Teresa Brown Adams.

But right now, considering that Shasta and Tehama counties have both issued air-quality warnings,  there’s no point taking risks when the air is considered unsafe to breathe, especially for infants and children, and those with compromised immune systems and/or health issues.

A smoky Shasta High field. Photo by Kerri Schuette.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children are especially vulnerable because their tiny airways aren’t fully developed, but what makes things even more risky for children is that kids actually breathe more air per pound of body weight than we adults do. Also at greater risk are the elderly, and those with respiratory issues and/or heart conditions.

Smoky Redding sky. No mountains, no hillsides. Photo by Melissa Porras-Fraizer.

In a perfect world, we could all hop on that high-speed California rail I’ve dreamed of, and we’d be whisked away to someplace where the air was clean, where we could see blue sky again, where we would inhale deeply, without abandon; where this was all a very bad dream, where we’d wake up and everything would be the way it was.

Of course, in an even more perfect world, the Carr Fire wouldn’t have happened in the first place.

The truth is, we now exist in this highly imperfect world as long as we remain under siege of the Carr Fire, where we can’t all leave, where we can’t all stay indoors in air conditioned places every day, all day. The fact is, like it or not, most of us must venture outside for food, or work or business or appointments. And when we do, we have no choice but to breathe this soupy, gray crap that passes for air here in the north state.

Another smoky Redding sky. Photo by Jennifer VerMaas.

I personally believe that more of us should be embracing face masks, for our lungs’ sake. And I’m not just saying that so I’m not the only one looking silly, or that I’m afraid I’m overreacting to the smoke. But my hunch is that embarrassment is what’s keeping most people from wearing masks.

With that in mind, allow me to make my case for face masks:

Men, if you think it’s not macho to wear masks, I have just one word for you: Paul.

This is Paul, proof that it’s manly to wear a face mask.

Ladies, if you think it’s not sexy or pretty to wear face masks, I have two words for you: Alexis Asbe.

Alexis Asbe posted her fashion face-mask photo on Facebook, with some lips and tips, such as adding a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil to the inside of the mask. She says it makes breathing refreshing.

Gentlemen, if you think it’s not debonair to wear face masks, I have four words for you: intrepid reporter Jon Lewis.

Who is that masked man? None other than’s own Jon Lewis.

I used to be under the mistaken impression that the only time face masks were necessary (other than in medical settings) was when there were obvious chunks of ash in the air, much like that horrifying July 26, when the Carr Fire invaded Redding’s city limits and threatened to annihilate us all. On that night, we remember how the ash swirled around us in a sinister whirling dervish.

But masks are not just for those obviously apocalyptic occasions. It turns out that inhalation of those tiny, ominous particles is what’s the most potentially dangerous, because they contain a deadly chemical cocktail of toxins and compounds, unseen by the naked eye. That microscopic soot — byproducts of smoke from burned forests and structures —  can settle deep into the lungs, and even travel into the bloodstream. This can result in difficulty breathing, as well as bronchitis, pneumonia and worse.

Have you noticed that north state women are starting to sound like Lauren Bacall, and the men are sounding like the Godfather? Have you noticed people coughing, and complaining of sore throats? Smoke is the culprit.

Photo by Julie Gussenhoven.

When I’m talking about masks, I don’t mean the one-strap paper masks, or surgical masks that hook around your ears. I’m talking a mask that’s classified as N95 or N100, such as woodworkers wear. Yes, those masks are more expensive, but you can buy them in boxes of 12 – think a family-and-friends pack – and then the price breaks down to less than $3 a mask, rather than the $6 -$7 each if you bought them individually.

If you’re somewhere and someone is giving away those masks for free, don’t be bashful, take some. If you’re looking for the perfect hostess gift, bring some.

Health considerations aside, there are many unexpected benefits to wearing face masks. For example, face masks eliminate the need to wear makeup. How liberating is that?

Did Doni apply makeup that day? Only the mask knows.

Who needs makeup?

Second, those elastic bands can create that sexy, messy-hair-I-don’t-care look.

Doni’s ready for a rockin’ time, at home, diggin’ some Downton Abbey reruns.

Of course, while I’m driving inside my air-conditioned car, I pull the mask down, which leaves a perfect little receptacle for all kinds of things, like a Sharpie, some hand lotion, and some mini M&Ms.

So, suit yourself  if you shun the protection of a face mask for the sake of your health. It’s a personal choice. But I’ve given it a great deal of thought, and have come up with 18 more awesome reasons that just might convince you that it’s better to live with face masks, than without them.

Doni’s 2018 Top 18 Face-Mask Benefits

18. Bad breath? No problem.
17. Cough, yawn or sneeze with abandon. Your mouth is covered. Look ma, no hands!
16. You can stick out your tongue at someone and they’ll never be the wiser.
15. It’s an effective weight-loss plan. No eating. No drinking.

So frustrating!

14. It helps with that smoking-cessation plan. Try smoking with a mask on and you’ll light your face on fire. Besides, with Carr-Fire’s poor air quality, we all get plenty of second-hand smoke.  Think of the money you’ll save not buying cigarettes (or whatever). More money for face masks!
13. You can walk into your bank wearing a mask and nobody will care or call security. (Credit: Claudia Powers Hasting.)
12. Snap! Your likeness is captured by a photo-enforced red light camera? Or was it? Prove it! (Credit: Jeff Gore.)
11. They’re perfect for playing poker, or telling white lies. You look awesome in those white leggings
10. Insecure about your smile? Relax. Nothing to see here, folks.
9. Shoulder pads could make a comeback.
8. No more catching or giving summer colds.
7. Impromptu slingshot.
6. Diamond-smuggling.
5. Do you see someone in public you’d rather not deal with? Instant disguise. Keep on walking.
4. Sneak candy into movie theaters.
3. Hands-free airsickness bag.
2. Bad first date? No problem. I’d kiss you, but you know, I’ve got the mask …
1. Paul might let you join him for a run.


Click here to see the latest Shasta County air quality warning.

Click here for more fire stories.  
Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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18 Responses

  1. Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

    I think I’ll join Paul for a run. You know, just so he doesn’t feel alone out there in the smoke.

  2. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    For residents of WHO’s top 32 most polluted cities, all in Asia or Africa, the conditions in Redding are a 365/24/7 reality everyday. Instead of “Snow days” for school closings they have “Smog days”. It is no comfort for north state residents but others have it worse. For Redding the light at the end of the tunnel is clear skies.

  3. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    When I sent photos of us wearing our masks to my niece, she wrote back: “Senior Storm Troopers, Commence!” We drove to Redding last Friday, thinking that Redding’s air quality would be even worse than that in eastern county. Not so. It’s just as smoky here as in Redding. When we lived in Alaska where blue sky is the norm and we’d visit relatives in Bakersfield where the sky was frequently yellow, we were happy to leave Bakersfield to visit relatives on the Central Coast where the sky was again blue. Right now, Bakersfield is appealing. Stay safe, everyone, and don your masks.

    • Well, there seemed to be a slight let-up in the smoke a few days ago (they blur), but smoke being how smoke is, it’s shifted and settled down in the valley with a vengeance. The night before last I was outside hand-watering, wearing a black top, and by the time I came in about 20 minutes later (wearing a mask, of course) the shirt was covered in tiny specks of white ash; like dandruff on sterioids. The ash is changing from those first days, where we found huge hunks of charred leaves.
      If you look at a map of the western part of the U.S., fires are everywhere. There’s almost no escaping it. And the poor folks in Sacramento are getting it from all sides.

  4. R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

    “He wears protection. When he runs.” LOL. I dropped a couple of face masks off at my parents’ house the other day. I went shopping for more at WalMart but they were all out when I was there. Smoke gets in everything. Yuck.

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      I checked online to see where to acquire masks. Since it was Sunday, all Owens pharmacies were closed. Only two were listed, one of which was Pier 1. I thought that was strange but went anyway. The clerk gave me a blank stare when I asked about masks, and I said that I figured the information was incorrect. A customer there suggested the Hallmark store, and sure enough, they had both the free ones and the $5 ones. I purchased two, and the clerk said that all proceeds go to the various relief funds.

      • Avatar Candace C says:

        Thank you Beverly, I was just wondering where to purchase and didn’t feel like trolling all the articles to find out. I know, pure laziness on my part, but thanks!

    • Well, RV, I hoped that line would get a chuckle. Mission accomplished. 😉
      The smoke is yuck. 🙁

  5. Avatar Candace C says:

    Runway ready smoke mask couture – gotta love it even if you hate wearing it.

  6. I should have mentioned in the column that I bought my masks at OSH on Athens in Redding. There were towers of them in the entryway. I think most hardware stores, Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc., have them.

  7. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Thank you Doni. I’m going to try to score a mask for my husband and I tomorrow. Bob went to OSH and they wanted $24 for a batch of 10….we just want two and we’re trying to save money right now.

  8. Avatar George Koen says:

    I finally made the real man status!

  9. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    I dunno. I tried wearing one of them masks while singing yesterday, and it was kind of like wearing a raincoat in the shower.

    Wait. I might be getting my analogies mixed up.

  10. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    I just went thru the drive up window at Tri-County Bank in Cottonwood and made some remark to the effect of ” . . . I really should be wearing a mask.” The teller asked if I wanted one. She gave it to me free and it 299W (or whatever that magic number is) certified. I put it on then and there. I was able to see to drive home from Cottonwood. Driving down there earlier I had almost had to pull off the road because my eyes were crying so badly. Good on the folks at Tri-County!!