Wildfire Smoke

Smoke from fires can be dangerous for everyone. Fortunately, there are steps you can take both before and during smoky days to protect your health.

  • Know where to get information about the latest air quality conditions. Follow Northwest Clean Air Agency and the Washington State Smoke Blog for up-to-date information.
  • The Washington Air Quality Advisory scale explains what actions you can take to protect your health.
  • Prepare your family and your home before wildfire season starts.

Washington Air Quality Advisory (WAQA) Color Code Infographic


Health Risks of Wildfire Smoke

Wildfire smoke contains small particles that cause problems for your lungs, heart, sinuses and other parts of your body. Some people are more sensitive to the effects of smoke. Sensitive groups include:

  • People with health conditions such as asthma, COPD, diabetes, or other heart and lung diseases, or people who have had a stroke.
  • Children under 18.
  • Adults over 65.
  • Pregnant women.
  • People who smoke.
  • People with colds or other respiratory illnesses.

If smoke is affecting you, you might have itchy or burning eyes, sore throat, difficulty breathing, sinus congestion, headaches, coughing, or chest plain. If your symptoms are serious, get medical help right away.


Be Prepared

Don't wait until there's smoke in the air. Prepare ahead of time for wildfire smoke.

  • Consider getting an air purifier. Air purifiers with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter will reduce the number of irritating fine particles in indoor air. More information: EPA's Indoor Air Filtration Factsheet (PDF)
  • If you have asthma or another respiratory condition, make sure you have an inhaler or other medications that you might need. Make an asthma management plan with your healthcare provider.
  • Make plans for indoor activities for kids on smoky days. Consider what your children can do if they need to stay indoors when smoke levels are "unhealthy for sensitive groups" or worse.
  • Schools, camps, sports teams, and daycare providers should make plans for smoky days. Plan to postpone outdoor activities or move them indoors when smoke levels are "unhealthy for sensitive groups" or worse. Air Pollution and School Activity Guide.


Protect Yourself When It's Smoky Outside

On smoky days, you can take these steps to stay healthy:

  • Check air quality conditions. Air quality may change quickly. Get the latest from Northwest Clean Air Agency's website or follow them on Twitter for the current report for Whatcom County.
  • Stay indoors as much as possible when the air quality is at unhealthy levels. Don't exercise, play, or do chores outdoors when the air quality is poor.
  • Keep indoor air clean.
    • Close windows and doors as much as possible.
    • Use an air cleaner with a HEPA filter if possible.
    • Use fans or an air conditioner (AC) when it's hot, if possible. Set your AC to recirculate.
    • If you don't have AC and it's too hot indoors, go to a place with AC like a mall, the library, or a movie theater. If you aren't able to leave and it's too hot, it's better to open the windows for a short time to cool the indoor space than to overheat.
    • A DIY air cleaner may be an easy and cost-effective way to clean air inside your home. Information on how to construct a portable air cleaner and important safety tips to follow while using one of these fans can be found at Puget Sound Clean Air Agency's DIY Air Filter website.
    • Don't pollute the indoor air. Don't smoke, use candles, or vacuum. Avoid frying and broiling when cooking indoors.
  • If your health condition gets worse around smoke, contact your health care provider. Call 911 if you or someone else has serious symptoms, like trouble breathing.


Masks & Wildfire Smoke

The right mask with the proper fit can reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke, but they don't work for everyone. Only use a mask after first trying other more effective ways to avoid smoke, like staying indoors and reducing outdoor activity.

Some masks offer limited protection.

  • Respirator masks labeled N95 or N100 that are NIOSH-approved can filter out fine particles from wildfire smoke but not hazardous gases (like carbon monoxide).
  • KN95 masks or other masks approved in other countries may not provide the same protection as NIOSH-approved masks. If you use a KN95 mask, look for ones that meet requirements similar to NIOSH-approved respirators.
  • Cloth masks and surgical masks will not filter out the harmful particles in wildfire smoke.

Wearing a mask may worsen existing medical conditions.

  • Wearing a mask may make it harder to breathe because it can require extra effort to move air through the mask.
  • If you have breathing problems like asthma or COPD or heart disease, check with your healthcare provider before using any mask.

Masks must fit tightly.

  • There are several varieties of N95 masks. Each kind has a slightly different fit. If you choose to wear a mask, choose one that fits you securely and comfortably.
  • Straps must go above and below the ears and the mask should fit over the nose and under the chin.
  • The mask should not let air in from the sides around the nose and chin.
  • Masks will have limited effect for people with beards or young children because they do not fit snugly on their faces.


More Information