How to Prepare for the Wildfire Smoke Season

Wildfires and smoke are a normal part of summer in British Columbia, but our seasons seem to be getting longer and more extreme. We cannot accurately predict when big wildfires will occur, and we cannot eliminate smoke pollution, so the best approach is to prepare for a smoky summer before the wildfire season begins.

Reducing exposure to wildfire smoke is the best way to protect your health.

  • Most people spend more than 80% of their time indoors, so clean indoor air is important.

  • Purchase a high quality portable air cleaner that uses HEPA filtration to remove smoke from the indoor air. Different units treat different volumes of air, so do your research to get something suitable for your space. Electrostatic precipitators can also be effective, but they produce trace amounts of ozone that might irritate sensitive lungs.

  • If you have forced air heating and/or air conditioning, talk to your service provider about what filters and settings to use during smoky conditions.

  • Know where to find cleaner air in your community. Libraries, community centres, and shopping malls often have cooler, filtered air that can provide a respite from outdoor smoke.

  • Understand that the harder you breathe, the more smoke you inhale. Plan to take it easy, keep your respiration rate low, and drink plenty of water if it gets smoky.

Be aware of people who should take extra care, including anyone with chronic conditions such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes, as well as pregnant women, infants, young children, and the elderly.

  • If you or members of your family have a chronic disease, work with your doctor to create a management plan for smoky periods.

  • If you use rescue medications of any kind, ensure that you have an adequate supply at home and start carrying them at times when you hear about fires in the news. Have a clear plan to follow if your rescue medications cannot bring your condition under control.

  • If you are going to be pregnant or caring for an infant through the summer months, make a plan for minimizing smoke exposures if they occur.

Some people have to be outside during smoky conditions, but there are still ways to reduce smoke exposure and its health impacts.

  • If you are an outdoor worker, use resources from WorkSafe BC. Talk to your occupational health and safety specialists about what type of respirator you need before the season starts. You must be professionally fitted in advance for any respirator to be used in smoky conditions.

  • If you care for groups of children or plan outdoor events, ensure that your organization establishes a smoke plan before the wildfire season begins so that you can make clear and transparent decisions if air quality becomes a concern.

There are many tools available to help you understand the air quality impacts of smoke. Bookmarking sources of good information is an important part of staying protected.

  • The provincial webpage for Smoky Skies Bulletins is updated at least once every 24 hours when fires are actively burning.

  • The current Air Quality and Health Index (AQHI) maps for all of BC and/or for Metro Vancouver provide health-specific messaging for smoky conditions.

  • If you live somewhere without an AQHI reading, check the current map of fine particulate matter concentrations or PM2.5 instead.

  • The FireWork Smoke Forecast shows maps of predicted ground-level PM2.5 impacts over the next 48 hours.

  • The provincial map of Active Wildfires can help you keep track of the current situation, especially during hot and windy weather when fires can start and spread rapidly.

  • Extreme wildfires often occur when it is very hot outside, which can also affect your health. You can sign up for the EC Alert Me service to receive email warnings from the national weather office about extreme temperatures and other important weather events.

  • Install the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) Canada app on your Android or iOS device to monitor your area, and to get notifications when air quality changes. 

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Page Last Updated: 14/06/2018