Be prepared for Idaho’s smoky season this summer and fall

June 13, 2023
Carolee Cooper, Division of Public Health

Wildfire smoke contains a mixture of air pollutants that are unhealthy for anyone to breathe but are especially dangerous for people in sensitive groups such as children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with heart or respiratory conditions. It is important for every Idahoan to understand the risk of poor air quality from smoke before a wildfire and what to do if air becomes smoky. 

Know your risk

The risk of fine particle-related health effects varies throughout a lifetime. Risk is generally higher during childhood, lower in young adulthood, and the risk grows as we age. People with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions should be particularly diligent about limiting exposure to wildfire smoke.

For more information about people who are sensitive to air quality and most at risk for negative health impacts from wildfire smoke, visit the links below.

Common effects of smoke exposure include irritated eyes, nose, and throat. You should call your healthcare provider immediately if you have shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, headaches, fatigue, or a combination of these symptoms that worsen.

Limit smoke exposure

When air quality conditions are poor, reduce the amount of time spent outdoors and limit outdoor activities as much as possible. Pay attention to local air quality reports and health warnings. Real-time air monitoring information is available at  

The most effective way to reduce exposure is to stay indoors with windows and doors closed. . If temperatures are high and you don't have air conditioning, go someplace that does, like the mall or library.  If you must drive in an area with smoky air, keep all windows closed and turn the vehicle airflow to recirculate to reduce the amount of smoke in the vehicle.

While indoors:

  • Keep your windows and doors closed.
  • Avoid activities that increase indoor pollution (e.g., burn candles, use propane or wood-burning stoves, aerosol sprays, smoke tobacco products, vacuum) .
  • Use portable air cleaners to reduce indoor air pollution.
  • Use damp cloths or mops to trap dust and particles that settle on surfaces.
  • Adjust your central air conditioning system to prevent indoor air pollution.
  • Use an air filter rated MERV 13 or higher and turn the system fan on.
  • If the system brings fresh air into the home, ensure it is operating in recirculation mode, including closing the fresh-air intake to prevent outdoor spoke from getting inside.
  • Change system filters more frequently, as they may become clogged or dirty.

People who must be outside in the smoky air can use "particulate respirators" or N95 respirators to reduce smoke exposure. Respirator masks worn correctly can provide some protection by filtering out fine particles in the smoke.

A good respirator mask seal suctions the mask to your face during inhalation. It should also be easy to breathe while wearing the mask. The mask should create a breathing space by resting far away from the face to help reduce tightness or difficulty breathing that snug-fitting masks can produce.

The fit is particularly important for masks used during outdoor exercise or when used during long periods, such as in jobs that require being outside.

Be informed

The resources below have up-to-date information on smoke conditions and how to stay healthy during wildfire smoke events:

Carolee Cooper is an Environmental Health Program Specialist for the Department of Health and Welfare.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening Idahoans' health, safety, and independence. Learn more at

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