How to Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke

Protect yourself from wildfire smoke
By | December 19, 2023
5 min read

For days, images of New York choking in smoke have stunned the United States, as residents struggle to deal with the unfamiliar challenge of severe air pollution.

The smoke, originating from wildfires in Canada, has prompted authorities to issue air quality alerts. On social media, people share photos of the “apocalyptic” scene and tips to minimize health risks.

This complex mixture of air pollutants can have severe health implications, particularly for vulnerable individuals such as children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with heart or respiratory conditions. It is crucial for these sensitive groups to limit their outdoor activities, especially when the Air Quality Index (AQI) reaches “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” or higher levels. However, even healthy individuals may experience symptoms when exposed to smoky conditions.

It’s important to note that pets can also be affected by unhealthy air, so it’s advisable to bring them indoors if possible.

Particulate Matter

Wildfires emit a range of harmful air pollutants, including known cancer-causing substances and tiny particles that can exacerbate existing health issues and increase the risk of heart attacks or strokes. Particulate matter (PM) is the primary concern when it comes to short-term exposure to wildfire smoke. Smoke particles are typically small, with diameters of 2.5 micrometers or smaller, enabling them to penetrate deep into the lungs. Ultrafine particles can even enter the bloodstream directly. The scientific literature extensively documents the association between PM2.5 and adverse effects on heart and lung health.

The growing frequency and intensity of wildfires present a significant public health challenge, leading to reduced air quality for individuals residing near or downwind of the fires. Health problems associated with wildfire smoke exposure range from mild eye and respiratory tract irritation to severe complications for individuals with heart and lung diseases, including asthma, and can even result in premature death.


Carbon monoxide is fatal. It is impossible to detect CO without a carbon monoxide detector.

At low levels of concentration, the symptoms are headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. Prolonged exposure to moderate or high levels of CO can lead to disorientation, loss of consciousness, convulsions, and cardiac arrest. CO reduces blood oxygen and impairs the discharge of oxygen in tissues

When burned in an area with plenty of ventilation (outdoors), CO impact isn’t dangerous. It becomes hazardous only in an enclosed indoor space: basement, kitchen, or garage.

Indoor CO concentrations are generally low. Dangerous levels are subject to poor ventilation. CO is emitted from poorly maintained or improperly ventilated appliances such as stoves, fireplaces, and gas stoves. Indoor smoking also contributes to CO levels.

CO can enter the room from the outside. Vehicles are the main source of gas, especially when they remain idle for a long time near open windows and air intakes, also in attached garages.

Protecting Yourself from Smoke

When faced with the dangers of wildfire smoke, it is crucial to prioritize your well-being by staying indoors and maintaining clean indoor air quality.

To minimize your exposure to smoke and its harmful effects, it is recommended to remain indoors with closed windows and doors.

This approach becomes even more effective when air quality reaches hazardous levels due to wildfire smoke.

If you have a central ducted air conditioning and heating system, remember to set the system to the “on” mode, ensuring continuous filtration of the air. Avoid using the “auto” mode, which runs the system intermittently. Additionally, if your system draws in fresh air from outside, close the fresh-air intake to enable recirculation mode and prevent outdoor smoke from entering your home.

Consider installing a high-efficiency filter with a MERV rating of 13 or higher. This filter should be capable of handling the demands of your system. Another valuable option is to utilize a CARB-certified air cleaner, known to significantly reduce indoor particle levels and further mitigate the impact of smoke.

To maintain a safe environment, refrain from operating swamp coolers or whole house fans, as they can introduce smoke particles into your home.

Furthermore, avoid engaging in activities that contribute to indoor pollution, such as burning candles, using gas stoves, and vacuuming.

In smoky conditions, it is advisable to avoid outdoor activities, especially exercising. The level of exposure and resulting health effects depend on factors such as the duration of outdoor time, level of exertion, air pollution levels, and any existing health conditions.

It is highly recommended to consider eliminating outdoor activities entirely when the Air Quality Index (AQI) reaches unhealthy levels. In emergency situations or when the AQI reaches hazardous levels, officials may issue evacuation orders. Always comply with evacuation orders and, if evacuating by vehicle, ensure the windows are rolled up and the air conditioner is set to recirculate to minimize smoke exposure.

By following these guidelines, you can prioritize your safety and well-being during periods of smoke and wildfire events.

The founder, CEO, and author of articles for the Green Ductors blog. Dedicated to his work, Dmytro strives to make people more aware of the importance of maintaining the best possible air quality. By treating readers like friends, he communicates even the most complex information in an easy-to-understand way to make your reading experience not only useful but also enjoyable. Check out the articles written by the hand of our founder Dmytro.

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