Wildfire Smoke and Your Health
What’s in smoke from a wildfire?
- Smoke is made up of small particles, gases and water vapor. Water vapor makes up the majority of smoke. The remainder includes carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, irritant volatile organic compounds, air toxics and very small particles.
Is smoke bad for me?
- Yes. It’s a good idea to avoid breathing smoke if you can help it. If you are healthy, you usually are not at a major risk from smoke. But there are people who are at risk, including people with heart or lung diseases, such as congestive heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or asthma. Children and the elderly also are more susceptible.
- Smoke and Health Factsheet (40.7 KB)
- CDC: Health Threat From Wildfire Smoke
- Health Effects of Wildland Fire Smoke: Insight from Public Health Science Studies
What can I do to protect myself?
- Many areas report EPA’s Air Quality Index for particulate matter, or PM. PM (tiny particulates) is one of the biggest dangers from smoke. As smoke gets worse, that index changes – and so do guidelines from protecting yourself. So listen to your local air quality reports.
- Use common sense. If it looks smoky outside, that’s probably not a good time to go for a run. And it’s probably a good time for your children to remain indoors.
- If you have asthma, be vigilant about taking your medications, as prescribed by your doctor. If you’re suppose to measure your peak flows, make sure you do so. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
- Recommended Actions During Smoke Events (65.7 KB)
- What to Do During a Fire: Wildfire Smoke and Your Health
How can I tell when smoke levels are dangerous? I don’t live near a monitor.
- Generally, the worse the visibility, the worse the smoke. The New Mexico Department of Health uses visibility to help gauge wildfire smoke levels. Visibility chart
How do I know if I’m being affected?
- You may have a scratchy throat, cough, irritated sinuses, headaches, runny nose and stinging eyes. Children and people with lung diseases may find it difficult to breathe as deeply or vigorously as usual, and they may cough or feel short of breath. People with diseases such as asthma or chronic bronchitis may find their symptoms worsening.
Should I leave my home because of smoke?
- Te tiny particles in smoke do get inside your home. If smoke levels are high for a prolonged period of time, these particles can build up indoors. If you have symptoms indoors (coughing, burning eyes, runny nose, etc.), talk with your doctor or call your county health department. This is particularly important for people with health or respiratory diseases, the elderly and children.
Are the effects of smoke permanent?
- Healthy adults generally find that their symptoms (runny noses, coughing, etc) disappear after the smoke is gone.
Do air filters help?
- They do. Indoor air filtration devices with HEPA filters can reduce the levels of particles indoors. Make sure to change your HEPA filters regularly. Don’t use an air cleaner that works by generating ozone. That puts more pollution in your home.
Do dust masks help?
- Paper “comfort” or “nuisance” masks are designed to trap large dust particles – not the tiny particles found in smoke. (These masks generally will not protect your lungs from wildfire smoke)
- Smoke and Masks; protecting your lungs (96.7 KB)
How long is the smoke going to last?
- That depends on a number of factors, including the number of fires in the area, fire behavior, weather and topography. Smoke also can travel long distances, so fires in other areas can affect smoke levels in your area.
I’m concerned about what the smoke is doing to my animals. What can I do?
- The same particles that cause problems for people may cause some problems for animals. Don’t force your animals to run or work in smoky conditions. Contact your veterinarian or county extension office for more information.
I can’t leave town every time you are burning, what do I do?
- Smoke sensitive individuals should consult with their physician about how smoke may impact their health and check the following website for more information www.airnow.gov/
- Living with Fire and Smoke
How do you measure the quality of the air?
- Particulate matter is measured and monitored throughout 1 hr and 24 hr periods. See http://www.satguard.com/usfs for more information on the air quality index.
Smoke Monitoring Resources
- Interagency Real-Time Smoke Particulate Monitoring
- NMED Air Monitoring Website
- NOAA Hazard Mapping System Fire and Smoke
- NOAA SSD satellite imagery models of detected heat and smoke plumes
- Google Earth Smoke KML
Will the smoke be bad every/all summer?
- The amount of smoke in the air during the summer depends on the number of fires currently active across the forests. Some years are more active than others. In regards to prescribed fire, in those areas where fire has been excluded for too long, when we burn it is called a “first entry burn” and this produces more smoke than subsequent burns in the same area. Subsequent burns are called maintenance burns and they produce less smoke.
Does the increase in the volume of smoke created in the middle of the afternoon mean that it is growing “out of control?”
- Not necessarily. The amount and color of smoke indicates different burning conditions and fuels. Typically, increasing heat and wind usually occur in the mid-afternoon, so people should expect more smoke to build into a column in the afternoons. Very dark smoke and visible flames often indicate that the fire is burning in heavier fuels – such as dead logs on the forest floor
What is smoke management?
- Smoke Management refers to the policy and practice of minimizing the quantities of emissions from fires that enter communities, sensitive areas, and other designated areas. In each State, there is a Smoke Management Program (SMP) which outlines policies and procedures for managing smoke from prescribed and wildfires.
Smoke management during prescribed fires
- Fire managers will plan for smoke management and monitoring activities on all prescribed fires. Many factors will be considered prior to and on the days that burning will take place. Some of these factors include: identifying smoke-sensitive areas, determining the direction of the drift smoke or smoke plume, assessing fuel types and possible burning intensities (also influenced by weather conditions) and ventilation. If managers determine that smoke emissions will have adverse impacts, they may postpone the burn or implement different ignition techniques that will modify smoke impacts.
Additional Smoke Management Resources