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Smoke and Wildfires

Smoke from wildfires can pose health hazards to downwind communities. It often catches us off-guard when it moves into a community.

Smoke is a complex mixture of particles and gases which, includes carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, hydrocarbons and other organic chemicals, nitrogen oxides, trace minerals and several thousand other compounds. The actual composition of smoke depends on the fuel type, the temperature of the fire, and the wind conditions.

While the ash and smoke are visible reminders of the pollution currently impacting an area, be even more cautious of the fine particles you can’t see. These particles, which are invisible to the naked eye, bypass our natural defense system and lodge into our lungs. They can cause irritation , and over the long-term cause decreased lung function. They also make us more susceptible to developing diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and possibly cancer.

Not everyone who is exposed to thick smoke will have health problems. The level and duration of exposure, age, individual susceptibility, including the presence or absence of pre-existing lung or heart disease, and other factors play significant roles in determining whether or not someone will experience smoke-related health problems.

For quick information on Dealing with Smoke, the following three fliers can be downloaded. More in-depth information follows below.

    Dealing with Smoke, Tips For Children (.pdf)

    Dealing with Smoke, Tips For The Community (.pdf)

    Dealing with Smoke, Tips For Seniors (.pdf)

    Information on Face Masks/Filters (.pdf) 

    How Smoke from Fires Can Affect Your Health Brochure (US EPA .pdf)

How to tell if smoke is affecting you:

Smoke can cause:

  • Coughing
  • A scratchy throat
  • Irritated sinuses
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Stinging eyes
  • A runny nose
  • Asthma exacerbations
  • nausea

If you have heart or lung disease, smoke might make your symptoms worse.

People who have heart disease might experience

  • Chest pain
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue

Further information on the Health Threat From Wildfire Smoke can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

Specific Strategies on Reducing Your Exposure to Smoke

Here are some tips you can follow to protect you and your family members from unhealthful air:

  • Stay indoors. Choose indoor options when air pollution levels are unhealthful. Keep your windows and doors closed. Seal large gaps as much as possible. Use your air conditioning system and place it on recirculation mode if available.

This strategy will depend on how clean the indoor air is. A tightly closed, air-conditioned house, with the air conditioner set on re-circulate air is best. Staying inside with the windows and doors closed reduces exposure, however fine particles can still be a problem inside. Very leaky homes and buildings may offer little protection and require relocation to somewhere with better air quality.

  • Avoid indoor sources of air pollution. Reduce your tobacco use. Reduce painting, using solvents and adhesives. These all contribute to poorer indoor air quality. Limit or reduce vacuuming or using a clothes dryer as these items.
  • Reduce outdoor activity. Reducing your physical activity in outdoor areas lowers the amount of polluted air your body intakes. Curtail your involvement in outdoor activities and events that require prolonged exposure and strenuous exercise or sports participation.
  • Stay alert. Listen to your local news and weather forecasts and air quality advisories provided by the Placer County Air Pollution Control District. If the air quality in your area worsens take necessary precautions and plan your activities accordingly.

Most healthy adults and children will recover quickly from smoke exposures and may not suffer long-term consequences. However, certain sensitive populations may experience more severe short-term and chronic symptoms from smoke exposure.

In areas where wildfires are likely to occur consider some of the following tips to help you prepare in the event of smoke impacts:

Preparation Tips:

  • Have a several-day supply of nonperishable groceries that do not require cooking, since cooking can add to indoor pollutant levels.
  • Consult a health-care provider if you develop symptoms suggestive of lung or heart problems as soon as possible.
  • Be alert to Public Service Announcements (PSAs)
  • Be aware that outdoor events, such as athletic games or competitions, may be postponed or canceled if smoke levels become elevated.

If you have any questions, about air quality, please call the Air District at 530-745-2330.

USEFUL LINKS:

AIR QUALITY

WILDFIRE INFORMATION

WEBCAMS

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