- Wildfire smoke
- COVID-19 and wildfire smoke
- How to check smoke conditions
- How to prepare for wildfire smoke
- Documents and resources
A hot and dry summer can result in wildfires and poor air quality due to smoke. Wildfire smoke can affect your health by irritating your lungs and causing inflammation and reducing immune function.
Wildfire smoke can be caused by local fires but it also can travel long distances from other provinces, territories or countries. It’s hard to predict when fires will occur, how big they will be and how much smoke they will generate.
Wildfire smoke is a mixture of particles and gasses. It includes carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds. These are often made up of both coarse and fine particles often invisible to the eye.
How wildfire smoke can affect you
Some of the small particles can travel deep into the lungs where they can cause irritation and inflammation. Your health status and the concentration of wildfire smoke can increase your risk of negative health outcomes from smoke.
Many symptoms are mild and will go away when the air quality improves. These symptoms include:
- sore throat;
- eye irritation;
- runny nose;
- mild cough;
- phlegm production;
- wheezy breathing; and
Some people may develop severe symptoms that require medical attention including:
- shortness of breath;
- severe cough;
- chest pain; and
- heart palpitations.
Who is more at-risk?
People who are more at-risk from the impacts of wildfire smoke are:
- people who are pregnant;
- infants and children;
- the elderly;
- those with chronic conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease and diabetes;
- people participating in sports or strenuous work outdoors; and
- people who have been diagnosed with a respiratory infection such as COVID-19.
Identify and support people around you who are more at risk from the impacts of wildfire smoke. If needed, take extra precautions when it's smoky. For example, those with chronic diseases should review their management plans with their family doctors to see if the plan needs to be adapted for smoky conditions. This is especially important for people with asthma and COPD. Individuals who are especially sensitive to smoke, such as people with asthma and COPD, may want to stock up on rescue medications such as inhalers.
When there is heavy smoke, all people are at risk regardless of their age or health status.
Learn more about wildfire smoke and your health.
COVID-19 and wildfire smoke
How smoke can affect you
Air pollution caused by wildfire smoke irritates the lungs, causing inflammation. This can alter immune function, making it difficult to fight infections, including COVID-19. In some cases, COVID-19 may become more severe in smoky conditions.
When to get medical help
Seek medical attention or phone 911 if you're experiencing:
- chest tightness;
- chest pain;
- shortness of breath; or
- severe fatigue.
You should do this even if you don’t have a history of heart or lung problems.
How to check smoke conditions
Air quality conditions
In Whitehorse, you can check the Air Quality Health Index for air quality conditions.
Check real-time monitoring results from small air sensors in Yukon.
In other Yukon communities, you can assess air quality with a visibility index. Check Environment Canada's posted visibility. If visibility is more that 35 km this indicates that the air quality is good. Generally if visibility is less than 3.5 km the air quality is very unhealthy. Learn more about visibility ratings.
Check the smoke forecast to see where the smoke may travel over the next 48 hours. The firesmoke system forecasts are based on estimated wildfire emissions, which have a certain degree of uncertainty. This tool provides predictions only.
Current wildfire conditions
Check Wildland Fire Management for updates on the current wildfire conditions. However, smoke can travel long distances and can come from other jurisdictions.
How to prepare for wildfire smoke
What is a cleaner air space
In extreme smoke situations a cleaner air space may be required. The goal is to seal in the good air by sealing any gaps and avoid allowing bad air in. Air will move from high pressure areas to low pressure through any opening. Pressure differences from wind and temperature are hard to control. Appliances that remove air from the home will create a negative pressure that will pull in outside air and should not be used.
A cleaner air space is a building or area of your home, with filtration that reduces wildfire smoke exposure. Use may be part time, several hours per day, or full time for the duration of the smoke event.
What you can do in your home
If you have air cleaners with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, turn them on. Closing doors and windows and running a portable HEPA filter may lower the smoke concentration and relieve symptoms. Make sure the HEPA filter is the appropriate size for the room.
If you have air conditioning, turn it on to recirculate the air. Keep indoor air clean by not smoking indoors. You should also avoid burning other materials or activities like painting. The fumes can reduce air quality.
Learn more about protecting your indoor air from outdoor pollutants.
What your community may do
If the smoke gets intense and stays in the community, a cooling and cleaner air space may be set up in a public building.
Learn more about how to create a cleaner air space.
Wildfire smoke and heat
If the outdoor temperature is hotter than normal, take appropriate steps to stay cool and seek cleaner air. Learn more about wildfire smoke and heat.
What to do if you are exposed to wildfire smoke
If you're exposed to smoke you can experience:
- sore throat;
- eye irritation;
- runny nose;
- mild cough;
- phlegm production; and
- wheezy breathing.
If you experience symptoms, limit outdoor activity and strenuous physical activity. If breathing becomes difficult or uncomfortable, stop or reduce the activity. If your symptoms worsen seek medical attention.
If you have a health condition that could worsen with smoke, check in with your health care provider. Make sure that you have a plan for managing your condition should it get worse. You should also ensure your medications and supplies are available and up-to-date.
Wearing a mask
Well-fitted respirators offer some protection from the particulate matter from wildfire smoke. Respirators are marked with letter and number combinations, such as N95, KN95 and KF94.
- It’s not safe to wear any mask while sleeping.
- Most respirators and masks cannot protect against the gases in wildfire smoke, which may also cause irritation.
- Wearing a respirator or snugly-fitted mask may make breathing more difficult. Pregnant people and people with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions should talk to their health care providers before using masks for wildfire smoke.
- Respirators and masks do not work against wildfire smoke when saturated with sweat or water.
- People with limited upper body mobility may need help putting respirators or masks on and taking them off.
- The fit of a respirator can be affected by physical activities such as bending or lifting, and should be re-checked often.
- Wearing a mask may lead to a false sense of security – listen to your body at all times and stop or reduce activities if you feel unwell.
A 3-layer cloth or disposable mask provides moderate protection compared to a respirator. Simple 1-layer cloth masks, bandanas, gaiters, scarves, or t-shirts offer no protection, whether wet or dry.
Documents and resources
- Yukon wildfire smoke response guideline
- Guidance for Cleaner Air Spaces during Wildfire Smoke Events
- How to create a visibility index
- The composition of wildfire smoke
- Wildfire smoke and air quality
- Portable air cleaners for wildfire smoke
- Health effects of wildfire smoke
- How to prepare for the wildfire smoke season
- Wildfire smoke and outdoor exercise
For wildfire information questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.