Protecting Yourself from Wildfire Smoke
People impacted by wildfire smoke should protect themselves – especially children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with heart or respiratory conditions. These sensitive groups are advised to limit outdoor activities, especially when the Air Quality Index (AQI) reaches ‘Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.’ Air quality has been reaching ‘Unhealthy,’ ‘Very Unhealthy’ and even ‘Hazardous’ levels in some places over the past week. Even healthy people may experience symptoms in smoky conditions or after exposure. Pets also can be affected by unhealthy air and should be brought indoors, if possible.
Check air quality reports
- For near real-time updates on air quality near you, visit AirNow or the U.S. Forest Service Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program
- For mobile devices, access AQI information for more than 150 California locations using the state’s BreatheWell
Air Quality Guide for Particle Pollution
Stay indoors and keep indoor air clean
- The most effective way to reduce exposure and avoid the ill effects of smoke is to stay indoors with windows and doors closed
- If you have a central ducted air conditioning and heating system, run the system while keeping the fresh-air intake closed to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside, and if possible install a high efficiency filter with a MERV rating as high as the manufacturer of the system recommends
- Consider using a CARB certified air cleaner which can greatly reduce indoor particle levels to further reduce impacts from smoke
- Do not run swamp coolers or whole house fans
- Avoid activities that increase indoor pollution, such as burning candles, using gas stoves and vacuuming
Avoid outdoor activities
- People should avoid exercising outdoors during smoky conditions. Exposure and the resulting health effects depend on the amount of time spent outside, level of exertion, and the level of air pollution
- Consider eliminating outdoor activities altogether when the AQI is in the unhealthy level
- Officials may call for an evacuation in emergency situations or when the AQI reaches the hazardous level
- In the event of evacuation, make sure to operate your vehicle with the windows rolled up and the air conditioner set to recirculate
Use a respirator mask labeled N95 or N100
- When worn properly, masks provide protection, however they should only be used if you must be outdoors; wearing a mask should not encourage too much physical activity or time spent outdoors
- Healthy individuals may wish to wear a protective ‘particulate respirator’, which, when fitted properly, is very effective at removing small airborne particles produced from fires
- Follow the mask manufacturer's instructions carefully to ensure the mask will be effective in reducing your exposure
- Check with your doctor before using a mask if you have heart or lung disease, or have trouble breathing. It is harder to breathe when wearing these masks. Take frequent rests if you must work
- Seal the mask closely to your face. Masks with a snug seal work best
- Avoid bandanas, dust masks and surgical masks. Do not use bandanas (wet or dry), paper masks or tissues over your mouth or nose since these will not protect your lungs from wildfire smoke
Wildfire Smoke and Health
Wildfires produce a range of harmful air pollutants, from known cancer-causing substances to tiny particles that can aggravate existing health problems and increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. Particulate matter (PM) is the principal pollutant of concern from wildfire smoke for the relatively short-term exposures (hours to weeks) typically experienced by the public. Particles from smoke tend to be very small (with diameters of 2.5 micrometers and smaller), and can be inhaled into the deepest recesses of the lung.
Larger and more frequent and intense wildfires are a growing public health problem, contributing to reduced air quality for people living near or downwind of fire. Health problems related to wildfire smoke exposure can be as mild as eye and respiratory tract irritation and as serious as worsening of heart and lung disease, including asthma, and even premature death.
Interviews with CARB experts on the following topics are available for attribution, use and download by press and media.
- Wildfire Smoke Health Risks
- Protecting Yourself From Wildfire Smoke
- Accessing Local Air Quality Information
- Air Quality Index
- Air Pollution Monitoring
To request media files for download contact CARB's Office of Communications at (916) 322-2990.