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Forest Fire Smoke

Smoke is made of small particles, water vapour, gases normally present in the air, and some irritants. Smoke is harmful. The small particles in forest fi­re smoke make it harder to breathe and can make you cough.
How smoke conditions may affect your health is determined by a number of things, such as the length of time you are exposed, how much air you breathe in, your health and how much smoke is in the air.
Those most at risk of harm are:
  • Children (they breathe faster)
  • The elderly (their lungs are less able to deal with particles in the smoke)
  • Pregnant women (smoke constricts blood vessels which could reduce the blood flow to the baby)
  • People with heart or lung conditions, like asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema or congestive heart failure (their bodies are already stressed so they will be more sensitive to the smoke)
  • People who are very active doing work or sports (they are breathing more deeply and more often)
Smoke particles cause the body to try to protect itself by making more tears, making more mucous in the nose and throat causing a runny nose, throat irritation, sinus congestion and headaches. If the smoke is heavy and lasts days to weeks, the body may develop a longer lasting cough, trying to rid the lungs of the particles. Anyone who already has heart or lung problems is likely to feel the effects earlier and worse.
Medical care - it is important to listen to your body’s cues, especially if you have a condition that puts you at higher risk. Seek medical care as soon as possible if you experience:
  • A new or worsening cough
  • Shortness of breath, beyond what is usually experienced
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Significant weakness or fatigue
How can I protect myself?
  •  If it looks smoky outside, stay inside as much as possible with your windows and doors closed. If you have room air cleaners with HEPA filters, turn them on. Keep your activity level low.
  • Help keep particle levels inside lower by avoiding using anything that burns, such as wood stoves and gas stoves - even candles.
  • If you have an air conditioner set it to “recirculate” and keep it running to help filter the air and keep you cool. If you do not have air conditioning, if possible, try spending some time in an air conditioned place (such as a mall or library) to cool off.
  • Don’t smoke. That puts even more pollution in your lungs - and those of the people around you.
  • If you have asthma, use your medication as prescribed by your doctor. If you’re supposed to measure your peak flows, make sure you do so. Call your doctor or nurse if your symptoms worsen.
  • If you are in your car or truck, keep the windows closed and put the air system on “recirculate”.
  • Evacuate when advised.
Smoke levels from forest ­fires may vary considerably due to ­fire conditions and wind directions. People who are at higher risk should consider taking precautions when smoke conditions are light to moderate. This is usually indicated by a smoke odour and haziness or visibility that is less than 8 km.
People who are considered healthy should consider taking precautions when smoke conditions are heavy. Heavy smoke conditions exist when visibility is less than about 4 km, and is especially of concern when these conditions last for a day or more.