How to Protect Yourself During Smoke Events from Wildfires

Smoke events are situations where the air quality is affected by smoke, primarily from wildfires.  While they can occur at any time of the year, typically they happen during wildfire season, which is April to October in Canada.  Smoke events are more serious than regular air pollution due to the composition of the smoke.  And for those with pre-existing health conditions such as heart or lung disease, or for the elderly, very young and pregnant women, they can be particularly serious.

Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of what has burned.  During wildfires, it’s not just trees that burn.  Homes, industrial complexes and vehicles also burn, releasing additional toxins into the atmosphere.  Smoke events are made up of gases, pollutants, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, particles and fine particulate matter.


Air Quality

Air quality will vary depending on which way the wind is blowing and other weather conditions, as well as the intensity and size of the area(s) burning.  Most weather reports include air quality as a parameter.  It’s usually reported as AQI (Air Quality Index).  In Canada, it’s measured on a scale from 1 – 11. Any rating of 3 or less is fine for outdoor activity for everyone, including those with health issues.

To find out more about air quality where you are, check out Wildfires in Canada%%The Weather Network.

Dangers of Smoke Events

Wildfire smoke can irritate your eyes, nose and throat.  It can increase the risk of respiratory infections, worsen asthma and increase the risks of heart attack and stroke.  High exposure to smoke events can result in long-term health implications.


Protecting Yourself

When the index is high, try to limit outdoor activity.  To keep indoor air as clean as possible, keep windows and doors shut.  If you turn on the air conditioning, use the recirculate setting.  And clean or replace air conditioner and furnace filters.  Don’t add to the air pollution in your home by burning candles, smoking or using gas fireplaces and stoves.  Invest in a HEPA filter (you may need more than one depending on the volume of air it can recirculate) or an air purifier.  If you have to priortize where to put them, locate them in infant and children’s bedrooms, or seniors bedrooms, and keep the door shut.  If you don’t have the luxury of air conditioning, limit activity during the hotter parts of the day and consider spending some time in a cooler location, such as a mall or library.

If you plan on buying any air filters or healthcare products, it’s a good idea to purchase them before fire season starts.

As well, consider limiting the use of fans, bathroom and kitchen exhaust, and the drayer, to limit the outside air being drawn into your home to replace what is being evacuated.

For the same reason, in your car, use the recirculate setting on your air conditioning or heating.  And consider replacing the air filter the next time you have your car serviced.

If you need to be outside, monitor the air quality and decide at what level the risk is too high.  Where an N-95 mask, as it can filter out fine particles from the smoke.  Bandanas and surgical masks are not as effective as an N-95 mask, but are better than nothing.  And if you have trouble breathing, stop being outside altogether. 

Eye drops can help with  irritated and stinging eyes.  Drink water to relieve an irritated throat.

Seek medical attention if you experience chest pain, shortness of breath or other symptoms of smoke inhalation.  If you have underlying medical conditions, talk to your healthcare provider about a health action plan.

For more information on how to protect yourself outdoors, go to Strategies to Reduce Exposure Outdoors.

For more information on how to protect yourself indoors, go to Strategies to Reduce Exposure Indoors.

For more resources to to Fire Smoke Resources.

And lastly, visit for more information on reducing health risks, how we contribute to pollution levels and for air quality health index information. 


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