Wildfire smoke

Wildfire smoke is made up of very small particles and gasses that can be breathed into lungs and cause effects throughout the body. During wildfire season, smoke conditions can change very quickly.

Wildfire smoke health effects and recommendations

For more information see BCCDC Wildfire Smoke and the below fact sheets

Wildfire smoke causes or worsens a wide range of health effects

  • Everyone is affected differently; not everyone will experience symptoms.
  • Most health effects of wildfire smoke are short-term and will get better when the smoke clears.
  • The long-term effects of wildfire smoke are not well understood.
  • Effects can be made worse when it is hot.

Common symptoms (usually managed without medical attention)

  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Headaches

More serious symptoms (should seek medical attention)

  • Troubles breathing
  • Severe cough
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain or heart palpitations
  • Worsening of heart and lung conditions like COPD or asthma

Those most sensitive or vulnerable to these effects

  • Those with heart or lung disease
  • Unborn children
  • Children
  • Older adults
  • Smokers
  • Those involved in strenuous outdoor work or outdoor sports

Reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke

  • Keep indoor air clean (avoid smoking tobacco, using wood-burning stoves/fireplaces, burning candles, scents, incenses or vacuuming).
  • Stay put. Since smoke conditions can change very fast, it’s best not to try to leave the area (there is no guarantee that conditions will be better elsewhere and relocating can cause added stress).
  • Visit HealthLink BC, call 8-1-1 (non-emergency), see your doctor, or call 9-1-1 (emergency) if you’re experiencing symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, chest pain or discomfort, and sudden onset of cough or irritation of airways. Please note that if your local telephone provider does not support 8-1-1, you can call 1-604-215-8110.
  • Stay healthy. Maintaining good overall health is a good way to prevent health effects resulting from short-term exposure to air pollution.
  • People who smoke should avoid smoking when the air is smoky and consider nicotine replacement therapy to manage cravings. For more information on free resources visit BC Smoking Cessation Program and quitnow.ca.
  • Outdoor workers can visit Work Safe BC’s wildfire smoke: Frequently asked questions.
  • For most people, exposure to extreme heat is a bigger risk to health than exposure to wildfire smoke. If you cannot get cool inside, go outside even if there is smoke. Be prepared for extreme heat.
  • Wildfire Smoke and COVID-19
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Be aware of current smoke conditions

Can you smell or see smoke? – Our senses are sometimes the best tools we have.

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Community and facility response to wildfire smoke
  • Those planning outdoor events or activities should make sure they have a smoke plan in place before the wildfire season begins. See considerations for poor air quality events (PDF) to help to make these decisions.
  • Communities should set up a clean air shelter (PDF) in a public building for those who are unable to set up or purchase their own air cleaning units, or for those who may be feeling socially isolated. Ask your local government representative about setting up a clean air shelter in your community.  
  • Communities or individuals at high risk for health effects due to smoke will not be evacuated when there is poor air quality. During times of wildfire smoke, it is safer to shelter in place since smoke conditions can change very fast and evacuations can be stressful.
  • Communities looking for more information about public health and wildfire smoke can visit wildfire smoke response planning for wildfire guidance and detailed evidence reviews.
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