Information on wildfire smoke

Wildfires are becoming more common and severe as the climate changes. Smoke from wildfires can travel large distances and worsen air quality in communities for a few hours to even weeks. Smoke is made of many pollutants, including fine particles (PM2.5), carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Exposure to wildfire smoke can affect your health.

Air quality impacts us all. However, some people are especially susceptible to the health impacts of wildfire smoke. These include:

  • People with lung and heart conditions, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • People with other chronic conditions, such as diabetes
  • Pregnant people
  • Infants and young children
  • Older adults
  • People working outdoors
  • Unhoused and under-housed populations

Common symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure include:

  • Sore throat
  • Eye irritation
  • Runny nose
  • Mild cough
  • Phlegm production
  • Wheezing
  • Headaches

If you are bothered by any of these symptoms, you may want to talk to a health care provider or call 8-1-1, a free provincial health information and advice phone line.

More serious symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Sudden or severe cough, or irritated airways
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain or discomfort, or heart palpitations

Seek medical care right away if you experience any of these symptoms.

What can you do?

Before the smoky season:

  • Talk to a health care provider to understand how smoke may affect you and your family members and what you can do to reduce any health impacts.
  • If you have asthma, make sure you have an up-to-date asthma action plan to help you manage your condition.
  • If you use rescue medication, make sure you have a supply of it ready for the smoky season.
  • Set yourself up to have cool and clean air in your home. You can do this by buying a portable air cleaner or making a home-made box fan air filter to use in your home during smoky periods. You can also buy an air conditioner or look into other options to keep your home cool, such as by installing a heat pump or central air conditioning. You may be eligible for some government rebates or programs to lower the cost of home retrofits.
  • Find air conditioned spaces in your community that you can go to, if your home is too smoky or hot. These spaces include malls, libraries, recreational centers and places of worship.

When it's smoky:

  • Know the air quality in your community:
    • Air quality advisories are issued when air quality is poor or when it is expected to become poor. If you live in Metro Vancouver or the Fraser Valley, you can sign up to get email alerts about advisories through Metro Vancouver. For all other communities, you can sign up with the Government of B.C. to receive alerts.
    • The Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) provides ratings on air quality and accompanying health messages for communities in B.C. You can use the AQHI to plan outdoor activities, especially if you or others are more sensitive to smoke.
    • Download the WeatherCAN app on your phone to get notifications about heat and air quality.
  • Spend time in cool and clean air spaces, whether at home or in your community.
  • Follow your treatment plans and use rescue medication, such as inhalers, as needed.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Remove or reduce sources of indoor air pollution by not smoking or burning things indoors (e.g. candles).
  • When outdoors, pay attention to how you feel. If your breathing becomes difficult or uncomfortable, stop or reduce the activity. Follow the health messages on the Air Quality Health Index to help guide decisions about outdoor activities.
  • If you work outdoors, consider wearing a high efficiency mask, such as those marked as N95, KN95 and KF94. Masks must fit well to provide any protection.

Additional resources that may be helpful:

Learn more about wildfire smoke

  • Translated resources from BCCDC are available in the following languages: ASL | 繁體中文 | 简体中文 | Français | ਪੰਜਾਬੀ | فارسی | 한국어 | Español | عربى | Tiếng Việt
  • Learn more about how to prepare for and take action during smoky conditions