Strategies to Reduce Smoke Exposure from Forest Fires

The following information is courtesy Alberta Health and Wellness:

When forest fire smoke enters a community, it can often cause problems for the people who live there. The biggest health threat comes from small particles in the smoke. These small particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they cause burning eyes, a runny nose, coughing and illnesses such as bronchitis. For some people, these small particles can aggravate pre-existing heart or lung conditions.

You may experience health effects earlier and at lower smoke levels if:

  • You have heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or asthma;
  • You are an older adult, especially if you have heart or lung disease; or
  • You are a child. Children are more susceptible to smoke for several reasons: their respiratory system is still developing; they breathe more air per kilogram of weight than an adult; and are more likely to be active outdoors.

Pets may also be susceptible to smoke. Try to keep them indoors as much as possible, and ensure they have plenty of water. If your pet has trouble breathing, please see your veterinarian.
If smoke becomes a problem in your community, reduce your exposure to smoke through these simple steps:

  • Stay inside as much as possible, with the windows and doors closed. In time periods where the air quality temporarily improves, take the opportunity to ‘air out’ your house by circulating fresh outdoor air.
  • Close fresh air intakes from furnaces, fireplaces or stoves.
  • If you have room air cleaners with HEPA filters, turn them on. While air cleaners can be effective, only those that do not produce ozone should be used.
    Humidifiers may help remove some of the smoke. The humid air may help keep your nose and mouth moist.

Do not use wood stoves, gas stoves or even candles. This can make the indoor air quality worse.

  • Prepare foods which do not require cooking, since cooking (especially frying and broiling) can add to indoor pollutant levels.
  • Don’t smoke tobacco, particularly indoors. Stay away from people who are smoking.
  • When you are in your car or truck, keep the windows closed and put the air system on “recirculate” so you do not bring smoky air inside. When travelling through an area with low or no smoke, switch the circulation system to allow outside air into your vehicle.
  • Most masks are not helpful. The harmful particles are so small they can go right around or through them. Staying indoors with the windows closed remains the best option.
  • Leaving an area of thick smoke may be a good protective measure for members of sensitive groups, but it is often difficult to predict how long the situation will last. Leaving should only be considered if it is safe to travel and if the destination is very likely to have less smoke.

Reduce your activity and monitor your symptoms

  • Avoid strenuous activity or exercising when outside. During exercise, and strenuous activity, you often breathe 10-20 times more than at rest. Stop if it makes you feel tired. When there is a great deal of haze in the air, limit the amount of time your children play outdoors.
    Drink lots of water to stay hydrated. This will keep your nose and mouth moist for easier breathing.
  • If you experience chest tightness, chest pain, shortness of breath or severe fatigue, consult your community health nurse or doctor. You should do this even if you don’t have a previous heart or lung problems. You can also call Health Link Alberta at 1-866-408-LINK (5465) to speak with a registered nurse. If it is an emergency call 911.

Be aware of your surroundings and instructions from your community

  • If instructed to shelter-in-place, do not leave the facility/home unless advised to. Be alert to Public Service Announcements.
  • If you have neighbors, friends or relatives that live alone, check periodically to make sure they are OK. The elderly and people with heart or lung conditions may get sick from the smoke.
    Remember that outdoor events, such as athletic games or competitions, may be postponed or cancelled if smoke levels become elevated.
  • When doors and windows are kept closed to keep the smoke out, houses may also get very warm. This can lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Turn on the furnace fan or stand alone fans to circulate air.
  • Be aware of “Safe Sanctuaries”. Community centers, shopping malls, movie theatres and similar venues may have better air conditioning and filtration systems. Go to these places only if it is safe to do so.

People with asthmas, heart or lung conditions can also do the following:

  • Be especially careful about monitoring your health. Take all of the medicine you are supposed to take, and do everything your nurse or doctor tells you to do. Make sure you have a week’s supply of your medication available.
  • If you plan to use a portable air cleaner, buy one appropriately matched to room size, as specified by the manufacturer, before a smoke emergency occurs. Do not use units that may emit ozone.
  • Talk to your nurse or doctor if you have any other concerns about your health. Again, you can also call Health Link Alberta at 1-866-408-LINK (5465) to speak with a registered nurse. If it is an emergency call 911.

For further information:
Alberta Health Services
Residents can contact Health Link Alberta to speak to a registered nurse 24 hours a day, seven days a week, toll-free at 1-866-408-LINK (5465).
View an animated hour-by-hour forecast of how smoke may travel from wildfires in Western Canada for up to 48 hours in the future. Different levels of smoke are provided in colors that correspond to different concentrations of smoke (particulate matter 2.5). People who view this site should keep in mind that like a weather forecast, local conditions may vary.