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Wildfires and Smoke

Reducing Health Effects of Wildfire Smoke

Wildfires and severe smoke can create dangerous conditions for people, especially those with chronic health conditions.

Learn about current wildfires, wildfire smoke conditions, and what you can do to reduce the health effects of wildfire smoke.

 
 

 Wildfires in Oregon

  • Oregon Smoke Information Blog 
    Get current local air quality information from Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and learn if there is a health advisory in your community.

 Health Threats from Wildfire Smoke

Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. Smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases.

Know if you are at risk

  • If you have heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, COPD, emphysema or asthma, you are at higher risk of having health problems from smoke.
  • Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke, possibly because they are more likely to have heart or lung diseases than younger people.
  • Children are more likely to be affected by health threats from smoke because their airways are still developing and because they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults. Children also are more likely to be active outdoors.

Recommendations for people with chronic diseases

  • Have an adequate supply of medication (more than five days).
  • If you have asthma, make sure you have a written asthma management plan.
  • If you have heart disease, check with your health care providers about precautions to take during smoke events. 
  • If you plan to use a portable air cleaner, select a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter or an electro-static precipitator (ESP). Buy one that matches the room size specified by the manufacturer. 
  • Call your health care provider if your condition gets worse when you are exposed to smoke.

Recommendations for everyone: Limit your exposure to smoke

  • Pay attention to local air quality reports.
    Listen and watch for news or health warnings about smoke. Find out if your community provides reports about the Environmental Protection Agency's Air Quality Index (AQI). Also pay attention to public health messages about taking additional safety measures.
     
  • Refer to visibility guides if they are available.
    Not every community has a monitor that measures the amount of particles that are in the air. In the Western part of the United States, some communities have guidelines to help people estimate the Air Quality Index (AQI) based on how far they can see.
     
  • 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 you have one, but keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. Running a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter or an electro-static precipitator (ESP) can also help you keep your indoor air clean. If you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere.
     
  • Do not add to indoor pollution.
    When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns, such as candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves. Do not vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Do not smoke, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.
     
  • Do not rely on masks for protection.
    Paper "comfort" or "dust" masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from smoke. There are also specially designed air filters worn on the face called respirators. These must be fitted, tested and properly worn to protect against wildfire smoke. People who do not properly wear their respirator may gain a false sense of security. If you choose to wear a respirator, select an “N95” respirator, and make sure you find someone who has been trained to help you select the right size, test the seal and teach you how to use it. It may offer some protection if used correctly. For more information about effective masks, see the Respirator Fact Sheet provided by CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

 Fact Sheets

For the public

Is your air quality hazardous to your health?

Fact Sheet: Hazy, smoky air: Do you know what to do? wildfire fact sheet

Frequently Asked Questions: Wildfire Smoke and Your Healthwildfire faq

For schools

Public health guidance for school outdoor activities during wildfire events

For more information, schools should contact their local health department.
 

Additional Resources

For employers

Please contact Oregon OSHA for employer resources.
 

For pregnant women and infants

Information for pregnant women and parents of young infants

For public health, health care and providers


See Also: Clean Air at Home

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