October 17, 2017

Dry weather conditions increase the potential for wildfires. The hazards of wildfires can extend well beyond the fire itself. Stay alert for wildfire warnings and take action to protect yourself from wildfire smoke.

Smoke from wildfires and large structure fires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees, plants, and building materials. Ultra-tiny particles in smoke can bypass the protective filtering mechanisms in airways and lodge deep in the lungs and enter the bloodstream. Such smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases. Smoke can cause the following:

  • Coughing
  • Scratchy throat
  • Irritated sinuses
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Stinging eyes
  • Running nose
  • Asthma exacerbations

Who’s at Greatest Risk

  • Individuals with heart or lung disease may experience chest pain, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and/or fatigue.
  • Individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as respiratory allergies, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may experience an inability to breath normally, cough, chest discomfort, and/or wheezing or shortness of breath.
  • Children are more likely to affected by health threats from smoke since they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults.

It’s important to note that when smoke levels are high enough, even healthy people may experience some of these symptoms.

How to Protect Yourself Against Smoke

  • Pay attention to news or health warnings about smoke in your area.
  • Refer to any local air quality index or visibility guides to determine the concentration of particulates in the air.
  • Pay attention to public health messages regarding safety measures.
  • If you are advised to stay indoors, keep indoor air as clean as possible.
  • Keep windows and doors closed unless it is extremely hot outside.
  • Run an air conditioner if possible, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the ultra clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside.
  • If you do not have an air conditioner and it’s too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere.
  • Do not use ozone generators or “pure air” generators.
  • Do not use anything that burns – such as candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves.
  • Do not vacuum. This stirs up particles already present in the home.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Follow your doctor’s advice about medicines and respiratory management of asthma and other lung diseases.
  • Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
  • Drink extra fluids to offset the strain of coughing or wheezing.

If you are warned to evacuate, do so quickly but carefully. Familiarize yourself with an evacuation plan beforehand, as smoke may significantly reduce visibility. Do not rely on dust masks commonly found in hardware stores for protection – these masks are intended to trap large particles but will not protect against smoke. Respirators (N95, P95, R95) will offer some protection if properly worn to form a tight seal against your face, however, be aware that breathing through a respirator will require increased effort and may lead to respiratory fatigue.  Inside vehicles, smoke levels can be reduced by keeping windows and vents closed. Ventilation systems and air conditioners should be set to recirculate the inside air.