Staying safe from wildfire smoke exposure

” As wildfire season approaches, know the symptoms of exposure, where to get help

…. As wildfire season fast approaches, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) encourages people to take steps to protect themselves against wildfire smoke, especially those at higher risk of negative health effects from exposure. Smoke from wildfires can travel hundreds or thousands of miles, affecting air quality and creating health hazards for people in Oregon, said OHA Public Health Director Rachael Banks. Some communities are especially vulnerable to effects of wildfire smoke.

“Families living with low income and who struggle with access to health care and resources may also feel worse effects of wildfire smoke in their neighborhoods,” Banks said. “Listening out for local warnings and reports while taking protective measures can help reduce those effects for everyone.”

Groups sensitive to wildfire smoke also include people with breathing or heart conditions, older adults, infants and children, and people who are pregnant.

Additionally, since people who work outdoors may have increased exposure to smoke, employers must follow key requirements from Oregon Occupational Safety and Health (OR-OSHA) to better protect their employees.

Exposure to gases and particles in wildfire smoke may cause symptoms such as:

  • Watery or dry eyes
  • Persistent coughing, phlegm, wheezing, scratchy throat or irritated sinuses
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath, asthma attack or lung irritation
  • Irregular heartbeat, chest pain or fatigue
  • Heart attacks

Smoke levels can change rapidly depending on fire behavior and weather conditions. With that in mind, checking current conditions on the Oregon Smoke Information Blog, viewing Oregon DEQ Air Quality Index or searching for and downloading the free OregonAIR app on the Apple App Store or Google Play store can keep communities up to date on alerts for their areas.

Trees on the side of a mountain in a valley covered by smoke from Forest Wildfire. Nature Disaster. Lytton, British Columbia, Canada.

It’s best to prepare early so you can take the following protective steps if reports show high smoke levels:

  • Stay indoors whenever possible. If you must go outdoors, consider using a respirator.
  • Follow a management and treatment plan for those living with chronic respiratory conditions, like asthma.
  • Keep track of medication supply, and refill prescriptions as early as possible. People living with asthma should call their health provider if their asthma gets worse or if they have concerns about their breathing plan.
  • Create a cleaner air space:
    • Keep windows and doors closed.
    • Avoid strenuous outdoor activity.
    • Use high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in indoor ventilation systems or portable air purifiers, if available.
    • Create a DIY Box fan filter if you are unable to get an air purifier. OHA has video guides on how to make one below:

Many communities open cleaner air spaces during severe smoke events to help people unable to create a cleaner air space at home. In partnership with local officials and organizations, 211Info has a list of public cleaner air spaces. More information is available by:

  • Dialing 2-1-1 or 1-866-698-6155 – both lines are available 24 hours a day.
  • Text the area zip code to 898211 (TXT211) – available M-F from 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.
  • Visiting

Remember that cloth, dust and surgical masks do not protect against harmful particles in smoke. NIOSH-approved N95 and other respirators may offer protection, but they must be properly fitted and worn. Appropriate respirators are marked with the word “NIOSH” and “N”, “R” or “P” along with the number 95, 99, or 100.

These may not work well for everyone. They are not made in children’s sizes, and some people with chronic conditions may find it more difficult to breathe while using them. Oregon OSHA has helpful videos to ensure the most protection possible from a respirator:

For more information on reducing exposure to wildfire smoke, including fact sheets and FAQs in multiple languages, visit OHA’s Wildfires and Smoke page.”

[ Information sourced from this link and the Oregon Health Authority ]