Wildfire Smokes: The Silent Hazards

Wildfire Smokes

Wildfire Smoke and Pollution

Climate change is contributing to a rise in global forest fires due to higher temperatures and increased drought conditions. wildfire smokes can be a significant emitter of toxic air pollutants, as they spread across forests and grasslands.



Wildfire smokes are a complex blend of gases and particles that undergo transformations as they disperse from the fire. While the individual particles are tiny, they tend to aggregate during transport.

Wildfire smoke comprises a combination of gases and fine particles that originate from the combustion of vegetation, building materials, and various other substances. The composition of gases and particles in wildfire smoke can vary significantly based on several factors. These include the type of materials burning, the intensity of the fire, and the prevailing weather conditions.

A fire generates two types of smoke: black smoke and white smoke. Lighter fuels like grass and low brush generally produce lighter-colored smoke. As the fire progresses and burns through heavier brush and timber, the smoke tends to become darker in color.

Symptoms of Wildfire Smokes

wildfire smokes can cause symptoms like sore eyes, tears, headache, cough, and a runny nose. Prolonged or heavy exposure can lead to lung problems and persistent coughing. Individuals with heart and lung conditions may experience worsened symptoms.

While black smoke presents immediate risks, causing asphyxiation, coughing, and a burning sensation in the eyes, nose, and skin, white smoke from forest fires is often overlooked but can pose significant long-term dangers. It contains high levels of fine particles composed of carbon, sulfur, nitrogen, heavy metals, and organic chemicals. These particles can deeply penetrate the respiratory system, and bloodstream, and potentially cause harm to the lungs, heart, and brain.

Wildfire Smokes

People at Higher Risk

The following groups are particularly vulnerable to the effects of smoke exposure and it is important for them to take precautions to minimize their exposure and prioritize their well-being.

  • Small children
  • Pregnant women
  • Elderly individuals
  • People with pre-existing heart or lung conditions, like asthma
  • Individuals engaged in strenuous outdoor work or sports

Short-term & Long-term Effects

Wildfire smoke has the potential to cause illness in individuals. Even those who are generally healthy can become sick if exposed to a significant amount of smoke in the air.

The impact of smoke conditions on your health depends on several factors, including the duration of exposure, the amount of air you inhale, your overall health status, and the concentration of smoke in the surrounding air.

When wildfire smoke containing fine particulate matter (PM2.5) enters your lungs, your immune system responds by triggering an immune response similar to fighting off viruses or bacteria. However, unlike these microorganisms, the tiny smoke particles cannot be eliminated by your immune system. This continuous immune activity can result in systemic inflammation, which, over time, may contribute to the development of chronic diseases like heart disease.

While particle pollution remains a significant public health concern associated with both short-term and long-term exposure to wildfire smoke, it is crucial to recognize that wildfire smoke is a multifaceted combination comprising various pollutants. Inhaling these additional pollutants has also been linked to multiple adverse health effects including asthma, pneumonia, lung cancer, stroke, heart failure, and other serious health issues.

Wildfire Smokes

Tips to Survive Wildfire Smokes

In order to limit smoke exposure, it is recommended to take precautions such as:

  • Stay informed about smoke conditions through the news.
  • Minimize outdoor activities and stay indoors.
  • Prioritize indoor air quality by keeping windows and doors closed. Utilize an air conditioner with a clean filter.
  • To prevent indoor pollution during high smoke levels, refrain from using burning items like candles and fireplaces. Avoid vacuuming, as it stirs up particles in the air. Additionally, do not smoke tobacco or other products indoors, as it adds to the pollution.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water to help your body cope with smoke exposure.
  • Take cool showers to lower your body temperature.
  • Closely monitor at-risk individuals, especially those who live alone.
  • For individuals with asthma, lung disease, or cardiovascular disease, it is crucial to follow the doctor’s advice regarding medications and respiratory management.
  • Consider relocating to an area with cleaner air if the smoke levels in your community are high.
  • Standard dust masks or paper masks from hardware stores do not protect against smoke particles. Use properly fitted “N95” masks for some level of protection against smoke inhalation.
  • When inside your car or truck, it is advisable to keep the windows closed and set the air system to “re-circulate” mode.
  • Avoid direct sun exposure.
  • Take care of your mental health during a wildfire smoke event by practicing self-care: eat well, get enough sleep, and stay connected with friends.

If you would like to learn more about the connection between climate change and wildfire, click here. 

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