Tips to protect your health during a forest fire

Dr. Sarah Henderson of BCCDC

Seasonal forest fires have always been a part of summer in British Columbia, but in recent years wildfires have become more extreme, in part due to global climate change. We can’t eliminate smoke pollution, so the best plan is to be prepared says environmental health expert Dr. Sarah Henderson of the BC Centre for Disease Control.  Here is what you can do:

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

  • If you have a reactive respiratory or cardiovascular disease, work with your doctor to create an action plan. Always carry your rescue medications with you, make sure that you have extra at home, and know what to do if your rescue medications cannot bring an attack under control.

  • Listen to your body. If you feel that the smoke is affecting you, try to find cleaner air for a while. Large public buildings such as libraries, community centers, and shopping malls often have cleaner, cooler air than smaller buildings or the outdoors.

  • Everyone should take it easy when the air is smoky. The harder you breathe the more air pollution you inhale. Exercise is definitely healthy for adults and children, but smoky days are a good time for less strenuous outdoor activities.

  • If it is smoky in your home, portable air cleaners (with HEPA filters or electrostatic precipitators) can significantly improve the air quality in small spaces when doors and windows are closed. These units cost about $150, but they might be hard to find in the middle of a smoke episode. If you know that you are sensitive to smoke, it is best to purchase one before the smoke arrives. Although portable air cleaners are great, it may be unhealthy to close your doors and windows if temperatures are high and you do not have air conditioning.

  • Wildfires often happen when it is hot outside, so it is important to be aware of the heat-related risks.

  • Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water and encourage others to drink water as well – especially children and the elderly.

  • If you are travelling in a car with air conditioning, use it on the recirculate setting.

  • Keep track of air quality and smoke forecasts from BlueSky and FireWork. Check daily when you know fires are burning..

The best defense is a good offense when it comes to smoke from wildfires. Some pre-season planning will help you breathe as easily as possible through the smoky months.

As the Senior Environmental Health Scientist at the BC Centre for Disease Control, Sarah conducts applied research and surveillance to support good policy related to air pollution, food safety, extreme temperatures, radon gas and more.

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Page Last Updated: 03/03/2019