Idahoans are exposed to wildfire smoke from both wildfires occurring in Idaho and from wildfires in nearby states. Wildfire smoke exposure can cause both respiratory and heart problems. To protect yourself and your family review the information below about people who are most at risk from wildfire smoke, symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure and how to limit your and your family’s contact with wildfire smoke.
For more information click on the topics below.
Breathing smoke is not good for anyone, even healthy people. Wildfire smoke is especially harmful to:
• Infants and young children (especially children age 7 or younger). Young children breathe in more air per pound of body weight and are more susceptible to smoke.
• Older adults, over 65 years of age. An elderly person’s lungs are generally not as efficient as when he or she was younger.
• Pregnant women. Wildfire smoke may contain pollutants that may be harmful to developing babies. It is best for pregnant women to avoid being outdoors for long periods of time when wildfire smoke is in the air.
• People with pre-existing lung and cardiovascular conditions. This includes people with respiratory infections, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure and those who previously had a heart attack or stroke.
• Smokers. Smoking tobacco damages the lungs. Exposure to wildfire smoke can increase damage to the lungs.
Common symptoms from smoke inhalation include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or tightness
- Irritated sinuses
- Stinging eyes
- Sore throat
If symptoms are severe or persist contact a medical professional.
- Pay attention to local air quality reports. Listen and watch for news or health warnings about smoke. Find out if your community provides reports about the Environmental Protection Agency's Air Quality Index (AQI). Also pay attention to public health messages about taking additional safety measures.
- Refer to visibility guides if they are available. Not every community monitors the amount of particles that are in the air. In the western part of the United States, some communities have guidelines to help people estimate the Air Quality Index (AQI) based on how far they can see.
- If you are advised to stay indoors, keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep windows and doors closed unless it is very hot inside. Run a filtered air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere. For example, go to a local mall, movie theater, library or some area that can provide temporary relief from the smoke.
- Do not add to indoor pollution. When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns, such as candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves. Avoid frying or broiling when cooking. Do not vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Do not smoke, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.
- Do not add to outdoor air pollution. When smoke levels are high, try to limit activities that add to poor air quality. For example, do not burn wood or other materials that will add smoke to the air. Try to limit using gas lawnmowers and driving your car during poor air quality days. Consider taking the bus or carpooling to limit air pollution.
- Stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Staying hydrated helps dilute phlegm in the respiratory tract making it easier to cough smoke particles out. Plan on coughing, it is nature's way of clearing your lungs. Avoid caffeine products, sugary drinks and alcohol as they have a dehydrating effect.
- Avoid outdoor exercise or other strenuous activities on poor air quality days. Both adults and children should limit outdoor activities when smoke levels are a concern.
- Follow your doctor's advice about medicines and about your respiratory management plan if you have asthma or another lung disease. Keep at least a 5-day supply of medications on hand. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
- If you wear contact lenses, switch to eyeglasses in a smoky environment.
- Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper "comfort" or "dust" masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from smoke. An “N95” mask, properly worn, will offer some protection. For more information about effective masks, see the Respirator Fact Sheet provided by CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Portable high efficiency HEPA air cleaners can supplement the work of the HVAC system by removing fine particulates. HEPA filters with activated charcoal or alumina, especially those impregnated with potassium permanganate or zeolite will absorb gases in the smoke, including NOx and some of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene. These filters are more expensive and need more frequent replacement. Do not use ozone generators, personal air purifiers, or electrostatic precipitators and ionizers that produce ozone. Ozone is a respiratory irritant that can aggravate asthma and other lung diseases. Consult the California Air Resource Board Consumers' Air Cleaner Portal for more information on devices certified to avoid ozone exposures.
Proper size, installation, and maintenance are critical for portable air cleaners to be effective.
- Air cleaners should filter at least two or three times the room volume per hour.
- The package should indicate the unit's airflow rate, the room size it is suitable for, its particle removal efficiency, and perhaps its Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR), a rating that combines efficiency and airflow.
- The association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) maintains a certification program for air cleaners. The AHAM seal on the box lists three CADR numbers; the higher the numbers, the faster the unit filters the air. Choose a unit with the highest number.
- Consumer reports has evaluated air cleaning devices and a produced buying guide.
- Put the unit(s) away from doors, windows, and foot traffic; but not close to walls or corners, so the air can easily reach the unit.
Go Bags (or Disaster Kits) are an extremely important resource for you and your family to have in case of emergencies. These kits allow you to leave at a moment’s notice to find safety, while assuring that you are taking the essentials, such as food, water, and medical supplies. When you are told to evacuate, you may have only minutes to go, and without a pre-packed Go Bag, it will be easy to forget many important items. Every family is different, and the following web resource will allow you to look at your family’s unique characteristics in order to make a Bag that will contain all the items you need.
Things to consider for emergencies:
- You should have a separate pack for each family member to carry, so that one person won’t have to carry all of the supplies.
- Show children where their packs are, and have an emergency plan.
- Remember to have a plan that your whole family can use, and that considers everyone’s special needs.
- Talk to your friends, neighbors, and relatives about disaster preparedness, and be each other’s allies.
- Work together to come up with a plan that involves checking up on each other when a disaster occurs, and getting any help needed in tough situations, such as being away from home when you need to evacuate.
Take a look at the Emergency Go Bag flow chart for ideas on what to pack in case of an emergency.
For more information on disaster preparedness and wildfire safety visit these links: