Smoke Management

What’s in smoke from a wildfire?
  • Smoke is made up of small particles, gases and water vapor. Water vapor makes up the majority of smoke. The remainder includes carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, irritant volatile organic compounds, air toxics and very small particles.
Is smoke bad for me?
  • Yes. It’s a good idea to avoid breathing smoke if you can help it. If you are healthy, you usually are not at a major risk from smoke. But there are people who are at risk, including people with heart or lung diseases, such as congestive heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or asthma. Children and the elderly also are more susceptible.
  • CDC: Health Threat From Wildfire Smoke
What can I do to protect myself?
  • Many areas report EPA’s Air Quality Index for particulate matter, or PM. PM (tiny particulates) is one of the biggest dangers from smoke. As smoke gets worse, that index changes – and so do guidelines from protecting yourself. So listen to your local air quality reports.
  • Use common sense. If it looks smoky outside, that’s probably not a good time to go for a run. And it’s probably a good time for your children to remain indoors.
  • If you have asthma, be vigilant about taking your medications, as prescribed by your doctor. If you’re suppose to measure your peak flows, make sure you do so. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
  • What to Do During a Fire: Wildfire Smoke and Your Health
How can I tell when smoke levels are dangerous? I don’t live near a monitor.

Generally, the worse the visibility, the worse the smoke.

How do I know if I’m being affected?
  • You may have a scratchy throat, cough, irritated sinuses, headaches, runny nose and stinging eyes. Children and people with lung diseases may find it difficult to breathe as deeply or vigorously as usual, and they may cough or feel short of breath. People with diseases such as asthma or chronic bronchitis may find their symptoms worsening.
Should I leave my home because of smoke?
  • The tiny particles in smoke do get inside your home. If smoke levels are high for a prolonged period of time, these particles can build up indoors. If you have symptoms indoors (coughing, burning eyes, runny nose, etc.), talk with your doctor or call your county health department. This is particularly important for people with health or respiratory diseases, the elderly and children.
Are the effects of smoke permanent?
  • Healthy adults generally find that their symptoms (runny noses, coughing, etc) disappear after the smoke is gone.
Do air filters help?
  • They do. Indoor air filtration devices with HEPA filters can reduce the levels of particles indoors. Make sure to change your HEPA filters regularly. Don’t use an air cleaner that works by generating ozone. That puts more pollution in your home.
Do dust masks help?
  • Paper “comfort” or “nuisance” masks are designed to trap large dust particles – not the tiny particles found in smoke. (These masks generally will not protect your lungs from wildfire smoke)
How long is the smoke going to last?
  • That depends on a number of factors, including the number of fires in the area, fire behavior, weather and topography. Smoke also can travel long distances, so fires in other areas can affect smoke levels in your area.
I’m concerned about what the smoke is doing to my animals. What can I do?
  • The same particles that cause problems for people may cause some problems for animals. Don’t force your animals to run or work in smoky conditions. Contact your veterinarian or county extension office for more information.
I can’t leave town every time you are burning, what do I do?
How do you measure the quality of the air?
  • Particulate matter is measured and monitored throughout 1 hr and 24 hr periods. See for more information on the air quality index.