Find out about the health effects of smoke exposure

  • Wildfire smoke
  • COVID-19 and wildfire smoke
  • How to check smoke conditions
  • What should you do if the air is smoky from wildfires?
  • What is a cleaner air shelter?
  • Documents and resources

A hot and dry Yukon summer can result in wildfires and poor air quality due to smoke.

  1. Wildfire smoke

    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

    Your health status and the concentration of wildfire smoke can increase your risk.

    It can be harder to breathe and may affect chronic diseases such as:

    • heart disease;
    • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); and
    • asthma.

    Be sure to limit your exposure.

    Who is more at-risk?

    People who are more at-risk from the impacts of wildfire smoke are:

    • women who are pregnant;
    • infants and children;
    • the elderly;
    • those with respiratory conditions, heart disease; or
    • people participating in sports or strenuous work outdoors.

    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.

  2. COVID-19 and wildfire smoke

    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 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. You may be more likely to develop COVID-19 due to smoky conditions. In some cases, COVID-19 may become more severe in smoky conditions.

    If you're taking medication

    People taking chemotherapy or other drugs that suppress the immune system are at an increased risk from smoke due to COVID-19.

    When to get tested for COVID-19

    Exposure to smoke can cause similar symptoms as those expected with COVID-19. This includes cough and difficulty breathing. If you're experiencing mild symptoms, use the self-assessment tool or phone 811. This tool will help you determine if you need testing or further medical assessment.

  3. How to check smoke conditions

    In Whitehorse, you can check the Air Quality Health Index for air quality conditions.

    In other Yukon communities, you can assess air quality with a visibility index. Check Environment Canada's posted visibility.

    Check the smoke forecast to see where the smoke may travel over the next 48 hours. You can also listen to local radio stations. They will broadcast smoke forecasts.

    Check Wildland Fire Management for updates on the current wildfire conditions.

  4. What should you do if the air is smoky from wildfires?

    If you're exposed to smoke you can experience:

    • increased coughing;
    • throat irritation;
    • headaches; or
    • shortness of breath.

    If you experience symptoms, limit outdoor activity and/or strenuous physical activity. If breathing becomes difficult or uncomfortable, stop or reduce the activity. And, 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.

    You may be more at risk if you have:

    • asthma;
    • chronic lung disease or COPD; or
    • heart disease.

    If the outdoor temperature is hotter than normal, take appropriate steps to stay cool and seek cleaner air.

    Should you wear a mask?

    Masks and face coverings that slow the spread of COVID-19 do not protect against air pollutants from smoke. N95 respirators can protect you, but they are reserved for front line healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    What you can do in your home

    Turn air conditioning on recirculate. If you have air cleaners with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, turn them on. 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.

    What your community may do

    In many communities, public buildings that provide cleaner air may be closed or have reduced capacity during COVID-19. If the smoke gets intense and stays in the community, a cooling and cleaner air shelter may be set up.

    The risks of setting up a community cleaner air shelter will be weighed against the risks of COVID-19 transmission. If a cleaner air shelter is set up in your community, you can use it to get away from the smoky air.

  5. What is a cleaner air shelter?

    In extreme smoke situations a cleaner air shelter may be required. The goal is to seal in the good air by sealing any gaps and avoiding 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 shelter is a building, or area of your home, with filtration that reduces wildfire smoke exposure. Use may be part time (for example, several hours per day) or full time for the duration of the smoke event.

    How to make your home into a clean air shelter

    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.

    Get information on wildfires in Yukon

    • Wildland Fire Management
      Phone: 867-456-3845
    • Fire Information
      Phone: 867-393-7415
    • Wildfire Update Line
      Phone toll free: 1-800-826-4750
    • Report Wildfires
      Phone toll free: 1-888-798-FIRE (3473)

Contact 

For wildfire information questions, email yukonfireinfo@gov.yk.ca.