Improve Indoor Air Quality During Wildfire Smoke Pollution

Red sun over town and mountains with smoky skies from forest fire

Wildfire smoke can travel great distances and seriously affect our mental and physical health. Here are some tips and resources to protect yourself by improving your indoor air quality from wildfire pollution. 

Increased Wildfires Come With More Health Risks

The annual number of forest fires are on the rise in BC. Some reports show that over the last few years, we’re getting less rain and more periods of hotter weather than normal during the summer months. This leads to drier conditions where trees and grasses catch  fire more easily. Lightning strikes are the highest cause of wildfire, though man-made fires are increasing as well. 

Smoke from forest fires can travel a great distance from the source and linger a long time, depending on weather and geography. Smoke pollution contains a mixture of gasses and particles that can cause serious health problems depending on density and length of exposure. 

How seriously wildfire smoke affects people often relies on their general health and wellness. People with pre-existing health conditions such as asthma and breathing problems, heart disease and eye and lung diseases are at greater risk and should be especially careful. 

How to Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke

When there is visible smoke in the air, avoid going outside and reduce or refrain from any moderate to strenuous activities – even at home, as indoor air quality can become polluted even with windows and doors closed. We’ve put together a few tips and resources on how to protect yourself and improve your indoor air quality: 

  • Check the outdoor air quality in your area before making plans:
    • Consult a weather app on your phone or tablet, the Weather Channel, or the BC Air quality advisory web page
    • Download the Alertable App from the App Store (Apple) or Google Play/Apps (Android) to your device and set it to your desired location(s)
  • Keep your windows and doors closed when smoke is present 
  • Wearing an N95 or equivalent mask if you have pre-existing health issues
  • Stay well hydrated with plenty of water and electrolytes
  • Post emergency contact numbers on your fridge so you can easily call if you feel unwell or have trouble breathing
  • Ensure you have at least one functioning carbon monoxide alarm in your home
  • Install the best quality air filter that your ventilation system can handle based on manufacturers’ recommendations and/or purchase a portable air purifier
  • Make your own air purifier if you do not have access to a commercially made unit (light pollution conditions)

In some cases home remedies are not enough. During periods of heavy smoke in the air, seeking shelter at a public building, such as a recreation centre or shopping mall, can offer better air quality due to commercial grade filtration systems.

If you experience any change in your health such as new or increased symptoms during smoke pollution, be sure to self-monitor and tell a friend or neighbour so someone knows to check in with you.

For mild symptoms, the recommendation is to drink plenty of water, stay indoors and rest. Mild symptoms may include:

  • Headaches, nervousness and irritability
  • A mild cough, or sore or watery eyes
  • Nose, throat and sinus irritation

For moderate to severe symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. Moderate symptoms may include: 

  • Dizziness
  • Severe cough, shortness of breath or asthma attacks
  • Heart palpitations or chest pains

If you have any concerns about symptoms you may be experiencing, call your health practitioner or the provincial Healthline at 8-1-1. 

For more information and resources about indoor air quality and health, visit the Government of Canada Air Quality Health Index

Wildfire Statistics and Preparedness Resources

Below is a short summary of wildfires in BC the last four years. For a full report see the government of British Columbia’s Wildfire Averages. As of August 1, 2023, 1,558 wildfires have burned over 1.5 million hectares of land in BC, with 357 actively burning.

For more information about wildfire preparedness, visit HealthLinkBC or the provincial website  for public safety and emergency services


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