As summer approaches, so does the worst of wildfire season.

Last summer, a wildfire burned thousands of acres in the Sangre de Cristo mountains in New Mexico. People in the Nambé Pueblo and several other nearby Indigenous communities faced dangerous air pollution.

“They were getting a lot of smoke and being severely affected by it,” says Carrie Wood of the Three Sisters Collective, a group of Indigenous activist women in Santa Fe.

During the fire, the group mobilized to help protect Pueblo residents from breathing smoke-polluted air.

They collected donations and purchased more than 50 air purifiers. But local stores soon ran out, so the women made about 60 by hand.

“So you just buy a basic box fan, some duct tape, and an air filter that is rated to filter smoke, and you literally just duct tape the filter to the box fan,” Wood says.

The collective donated the air purifiers to vulnerable Pueblo residents. Their fast response and ingenuity helped protect people during a crisis.

But Wood says as wildfires get more extreme, local agencies should take steps to protect people before a fire starts.

“With climate change, this is the new normal, and so we shouldn’t treat it like it’s unexpected,” she says.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.