Monday, May 20

How to handle wildfires when smoke compromises health and air quality

Even people who are not in the direct line of fire are at risk of health problems due to smoke from nearby wildfires.

More people and our communities are in danger of injury if wildfires grow more common as a result of climate change and drier circumstances. Here are some tips to help you get ready and safeguard your loved ones.

How is air quality impacted by smoke from wildfires?

The smoke from wildfires significantly degrades the air we breathe. Similar to the pollution caused by burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas, wildfires release toxic gases and respirable particulate matter (PM10, PM2.5, and PM0.1) in the form of microscopic particles. There are other poisons found in wildfire smoke that originate from burning houses.

Smoke carried by jet streams and weather patterns can reach far-off places.

What health effects can smoke from wildfires have?
The most hazardous to human health are the tiny particles found in wildfire smoke. These particles have the ability to enter the bloodstream occasionally and go deep into the lungs when inhaled.

Smoke from wildfires can cause breathing difficulties, coughing, wheezing, and eye irritation. Additionally, the smoke may make respiratory diseases like COVID-19 more likely. Strokes, heart attacks, and heart failure are other potentially dangerous health consequences.

Who should exercise extra caution?
The most vulnerable groups to the dangers of wildfire smoke include youngsters, the elderly, outdoor laborers, expectant mothers, and people with heart or lung issues.

You should discuss the potential effects of smoking on any chronic health conditions you may have with your doctor. Find out which symptoms require a visit to the doctor or a change in your medication. This is especially important if you have heart or lung issues.

What steps can you take to be ready for a wildfire?
If you reside in a region where wildfires are a threat or where the heat and dry weather increase the likelihood that they may occur:

Plan your family's evacuation in advance of a wildfire.
Make sure you stock up on water, non-perishable food, and prescriptions for several days. This will come in handy in the event that a wildfire or other natural disaster forces you to evacuate quickly.

Check this fire and smoke map frequently, as it provides links to state alerts and displays the current wildfire conditions.

If you are near an active fire, heed the warnings issued by the local authorities.

How can you reduce the hazards to your health on days when the air quality is poor?
When there are smoke alerts for wildfires and other periods when the air quality is bad, you can stay healthy by following these six tips:

Keep an eye on the air quality. AirNow.gov provides actionable recommendations along with the current air quality risk category for your location. When advised, stay inside and shut off any outside air intake vents, doors, and windows.

Think about purchasing an air purifier. If you reside in an unsafe building, this is crucial even in the absence of any local wildfires. For advice on air purifiers and pollution, see my earlier post. Avoiding air cleaners that produce ozone, another pollutant, is advised by the EPA.

If you have an HVAC system, get familiar with it. Your filters' cleanliness and quality matter, so if at all possible, select high-efficiency filters and replace them as needed. Finding out if your system has exterior air intake vents is also crucial.

Refrain from causing pollution indoors. This includes refraining from smoking, vacuuming, and lighting items like incense or candles. Steer clear of gas burners and cooking, especially if your stove is poorly ventilated.

Establish a "clean room." Select a space with few windows and entrances. Use a room-sized air purifier, particularly if you are not using central air conditioning, to stay cool.

Wear a mask outside, and limit your time spent outside. Again, stocking up on non-perishable food and pharmaceuticals several days ahead of time may be beneficial. Reduce the amount of time and activities if you must go outside. Avoiding inhaling tiny particles floating in the smoke-filled air can be aided by wearing a properly fitting N95, KN95, or P100 mask or respirator (note: automatic PDF download).


  1. I loved the post. You can't play with your health and you can't be too careful. I live in a very dry region, so we always have to be careful to avoid fires.

  2. At least in such kind of fire there is not any chemicals in the smoke. My country, unfortunately, is plagued with dumpsite fires. Of course, it's not natural :(

  3. I am lucky that I have never had to worry about wildfires and smoke but so many do and for them this would be an awesome post.

  4. Gracias por los consejos. Te mando un beso.

  5. We had horrible air quality last summer when there were wild fires in Canada. This is such a good reference!

    Jill - Doused in Pink

  6. When the sky turns that weird shade of orange, it's time to hunker down inside and not breathe. If only we could get away with not breathing.

  7. What I like most is the suggestion to prepare supplies and an evacuation plan. The most important thing in an emergency situation is a first aid and the safety of loved ones. Thank you for this practical and wise blog note. There's always more to learn 👍
    Best regards 🤗

  8. You raised a very important topic. Air pollution has a disastrous impact on our health. It is also important to surround yourself with plants at home that absorb pollutants. NASA once published a list of such plants.

  9. Muito triste e devastador essa situação.
    Abraços carinhosos em seu coração.


  10. Thanks for these important tips.


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