Wildfire Smoke

Smoke from wildfires can pose health hazards to downwind communities. It often catches us off-guard when it moves into a community. This downloadable Outdoor Activities Smoke Guide (PDF) developed by Placer County Air Pollution Control District staff, in consultation with the Placer County Health Department staff, is intended to help in decision making when it is smoky outside. Reducing your exposure by using common-sense precautions is the best way to protect oneself from smoke.

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.

Smoke Composition

Smoke is a complex mixture of particles and gases which includes:

  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Other Organic Chemicals, Nitrogen Oxides, Trace Minerals and Several Thousand Other Compounds
  • Particulate Matter
  • Water Vapor

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.

How to Tell if Smoke Is Affecting You

Smoke can cause:

  • Asthma Exacerbations
  • Chest Pain
  • Coughing
  • Headaches
  • Irritated Sinuses
  • Nausea
  • Runny Nose
  • Scratchy Throat
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Stinging Eyes

Heart Disease

If you have heart or lung disease, smoke might make your symptoms worse. People who have heart disease might experience:

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

Additional Information

Further information on the health threat from wildfire smoke can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.