Inhalation of smoke from brush fires is dangerous and should be avoided;
especially if you have heart and lung diseases like congestive heart failure,
asthma or emphysema. When wood and other organic matter burns, a complex
mixture of microscopic solid particles, liquid droplets and gases is produced.
One of the biggest health concerns related to smoke inhalation comes from
fine particles. These microscopic particles sometimes cannot be seen and
can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause health
problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses such as bronchitis.
Fine particles have been shown to exacerbate chronic heart and lung diseases.
“The lungs provide some form of defense from air pollutants, but
not 100%. Some fine particles will penetrate deep into the lungs, causing
dangerous irritation and inflammation.” – Daryl Banta, MD,
medical director, critical care, pulmonary and respiratory services, Huntington Hospital
Here is some advice you should follow if you are exposed to smoke from fires:
Pay attention to local air quality reports.
Stay alert to any news coverage or health warnings related to smoke. Also
find out if your community reports EPA's Air Quality Index (AQI).
The AQI, based on data from local air quality monitors, tells you about
the daily air quality in your area and recommends precautions you can
take to protect your health. As smoke gets worse, the concentration of
particles in the air changes - and so do the steps you should take to
Use visibility guides, where they're available. Not every community has a monitor that measures particle levels in the
air. In the western United States, some areas without air quality monitors
have developed guidelines to help people estimate the AQI based on how
far they can see. Check with your local air quality agency to find out
if there's a visibility guide for your area.
Use common sense.
If it looks smoky outside, it's probably not a good time to mow the
lawn or go for a run. And it's probably not a good time for your children
to play outdoors. If you absolutely have to be outdoors or work outdoors
during smoke exposure, use a respiratory mask that is rated to protect
against harmful dusts, fumes, vapors or gases.
If you are advised to stay indoors, take steps to keep indoor air as clean
Keep your windows and doors closed - unless it's extremely hot outside.
Run your air conditioner, if you have one. Keep the fresh air intake closed
and the filter clean to prevent bringing additional smoke inside. (Note:
If you don't have an air conditioner, staying inside with the windows
closed may be dangerous in extremely hot weather. In these cases, seek
alternative shelter.) If you have central air in your home, make sure
to change the air filter at least every 6 months.
Help keep particle levels inside lower.
When smoke levels are high, try to avoid using anything that burns, such
as wood fireplaces, gas logs, gas stoves - and even candles! Don't
vacuum. That stirs up particles already inside your home. And don't
smoke. That puts even more pollution in your lungs, and in the lungs of
people around you.
*Adapted from the Environmental Protection Agency with input from Daryl
Banta, MD, medical director, critical care, pulmonary and respiratory
services, Huntington Hospital