Smoke from wildfires burning in the U.S. fills the air as the Grouse Mountain tram transports people down the mountain, in North Vancouver, B.C,, on Saturday, September 12, 2020. The World Air Quality Index, a non-profit that tracks air quality from monitoring stations around the world, rated Vancouver’s air quality as the second worst in the world Saturday. Environment Canada has issued a special air quality statement for Metro Vancouver, showing a very high risk to health due to wildfire smoke from Washington and Oregon. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Smoke from wildfires burning in the U.S. fills the air as the Grouse Mountain tram transports people down the mountain, in North Vancouver, B.C,, on Saturday, September 12, 2020. The World Air Quality Index, a non-profit that tracks air quality from monitoring stations around the world, rated Vancouver’s air quality as the second worst in the world Saturday. Environment Canada has issued a special air quality statement for Metro Vancouver, showing a very high risk to health due to wildfire smoke from Washington and Oregon. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Prepare for the worst: 10 steps to get ready for wildfire smoke

The summer of 2021 has the potential to be worse than any wildfire season before it

The wildfire season in western North America keeps setting new records and the outlook for the coming summer seems grim.

On top of the concerning environmental conditions, more people are spending more time outdoors due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Given that most wildfires are caused by human activity, the summer of 2021 has the potential to be worse than any season before it.

The direct threat of wildfire affects people near forests, but smoke can travel for thousands of kilometres to areas far away. Over the past decade, we have experienced prolonged periods when millions of people in western North America were breathing unhealthy air due to wildfire smoke pollution.

Exposure to wildfire smoke is associated with a range of acute effects, particularly for those with respiratory diseases. Evidence of longer-term health effects is also starting to emerge.

Outdoor air pollution from vehicles and industry can be reduced though new laws and technologies, but that’s not true for wildfire smoke. In addition, we can’t stop breathing when it’s smoky and it’s not practical to relocate to less smoky locations.

Wildfire smoke is both inevitable and largely unpredictable, so we need to become resilient to smoke by changing our activities and behaviours to limit exposure and protect health.

10 steps: Planning, air cleaners, masks and more

Being prepared for smoke episodes before they occur can reduce fear and uncertainty when air quality starts to deteriorate. Research indicates that people with a plan feel more empowered and self-reliant during wildfire disasters, and that they have better mental and physical health outcomes than those who were less prepared.

Here are 10 steps to help you develop a plan for the wildfire smoke season ahead.

1. Understand your household risk. Some people are more likely to experience negative health effects from smoke, especially those who have asthma, COPD, heart disease, diabetes, other chronic conditions or acute infections such as COVID-19. Pregnant women, infants, young children, older adults are also more sensitive to smoke, and people who work or live outdoors are more exposed. If smoke has made someone feel unwell in the past, it will likely make them feel unwell again.

2. Identify others you want to support. There may be people outside your household you want to help during a smoke episode, particularly older adults in your family or community. Keep them in mind as you develop your plans.

3. Review medical management plans. Anyone who has a chronic disease with a management plan should consult with their doctor about adapting it for smoky conditions. For example, people with asthma and COPD are particularly sensitive to smoke, and evidence suggests that smoke can make it more difficult for people with diabetes to balance their insulin.

4. Stock up on rescue medications. There can be high demand for medications such as inhalers when it gets smoky, and highly sensitive people may be less mobile. It is best to stock up on these medications before the season begins, so they are readily available when needed. Always travel with your rescue medications during wildfire season.

5. Consider purchasing a portable air cleaner. Most people spend 90 per cent of their time inside. Portable air cleaners with HEPA filters can significantly reduce indoor PM 2.5 concentrations when sized and used properly. There are many options on the market, so do some research to find the best option for your space. A high-quality furnace filter taped to a box fan can also be effective in a small room.

6. Get ready to shelter in place. Think about how to keep the air in your home (or areas of your home, especially bedrooms) cleaner by closing windows, running your forced air system on recirculate and using portable air cleaners. Beware of getting too hot, though — overheating is a bigger health risk than breathing smoke for most people.

7. Find good masks for time outdoors. A well-fitted respirator mask (common types are N95, KN95 and KF94) provides the best protection from the small particles in wildfire smoke, and these have become easier to find since the COVID-19 pandemic. We have also learned that a well-fitting three-layer disposable or cloth mask can do a pretty good job. The fit is key — inhaled air must pass through the material of the mask, not around it. People who work outdoors should consult their occupational health and safety professionals before the season begins.

8. Use technology to your advantage. Applications such as WeatherCAN and AQHI Canada (in Canada) and AirNow and SmokeSense (in the U.S.) can help you keep track of current conditions and air quality forecasts. Some local agencies provide email and text services to notify subscribers about changing conditions — Google can probably help you find them!

9. Bookmark important information. In the morning, check the FireWork, BlueSky and AirNow smoke forecasts for the day. These can help you to understand where fires are currently burning, and where the smoke is likely to travel. You can also bookmark tips for coping with smoke when it happens.

10. Connect with others about smoke. Talk to your family and community about your planning process and help others to think through their own preparations. The more we get ready for smoke before the wildfire season starts, the more resilient we will be when the smoke arrives.

It’s impossible to predict when and where extreme wildfire smoke will occur, but we know that our wildfire seasons are getting longer and more severe. We must head into every new wildfire season by preparing for the worst. It’s not optimistic and it’s not pessimistic — it’s just realistic based on trends over the past decades.

— by Sarah Henderson, Associate Professor (Partner), School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia and Mike Flannigan, Professor of Wildland Fire, University of Alberta. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

RELATED: Canada Post to suspend delivery to parts of southern, central B.C. due to wildfire smoke

RELATED: Dr. Henry says schools ‘perfectly safe’; BCTF urges teachers affected by smoke to take sick days

public healthWildfire seasonwildfire smoke

Just Posted

Environment Canada has issued a thunderstorm watch for the Cariboo north including Quesnel. (Black Press file image)
Environment Canada issues thunderstorm watch for Quesnel

A chance of thundershowers is forcasted to last until Tuesday

The Gold Pan Grannies attended the Quesnel Farmers’ Market where they sold perennials and vegetable plants and fruit trees by donation Saturday, May 29. They were able to raise $1,000 for the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Gold Pan Grannies raise $1,000 for Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign

Annual plant sale at Quesnel Farmers’ Market a success

Amy Vardy is one of four dancers to compete in their final year of the Quesnel Festival of the Performing Arts. (Submitted Photo)
Quesnel Festival of the Arts graduating dancer profile: Amy Vardy

The Quesnel Festival of the Performing arts is honouring their graduating dancers

Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File photo)
RANCH MUSINGS: Predictions of climate variability and effects on agriculture

Oliver Rujanschi, we will miss you and the warmth that you were. Sorry friend

Emily Nelson is one of four graduating dancers honoured by the Quesnel Festival of the Performing Arts.(Submitted Photo - Robyn Louise Photography)
Quesnel Festival of the Arts graduating dancer profile: Emily Nelson

The Festival of the Arts is honouring graduating dancers

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Highway notices like this come down effective June 14. Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and commercial operation have hit local businesses in every corner of B.C. (B.C. government)
Province-wide travel back on in B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan

Gathering changes include up to 50 people for outdoor events

Calgary Stampeders’ Jerome Messam leaps over a tackle during second half CFL western semifinal football action in Calgary, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CFL football will be played this summer in Canada

Governors vote unanimously in favour to start the ‘21 campaign on Aug. 5

Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino holds a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. The federal government is announcing that Indigenous people can now apply to reclaim their names on passports and other government documents. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous people can now reclaim traditional names on their passports and other ID

Announcement applies to all individuals of First Nations, Inuit and Métis background

Harvesting hay in the Fraser Valley. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
COVID-19: B.C. waives farm income requirement for a second year

Property owners don’t need minimum income for 2022 taxes

Cruise ship passengers arrive at Juneau, Alaska in 2018. Cruise lines have begun booking passengers for trips from Seattle to Alaska as early as this July, bypassing B.C. ports that are not allowed to have visitors until March 2022 under a Canadian COVID-19 restrictions. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire)
B.C. doesn’t depend on U.S. law to attract cruise ships, Horgan says

Provinces to get update next week on Canada’s border closure

This undated photo provided by Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails shows a scout donating cookies to firefighters in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, as part of the Hometown Heroes program. As the coronavirus pandemic wore into the spring selling season, many Girl Scout troops nixed their traditional cookie booths for safety reasons. That resulted in millions of boxes of unsold cookies. (Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails via AP)
Thinner Mints: Girl Scouts have millions of unsold cookies

Since majority of cookies are sold in-person, pandemic made the shortfall expected

In this artist’s sketch, Nathaniel Veltman makes a video court appearance in London, Ont., on June 10, 2021 as Justice of the Peace Robert Seneshen (top left) and lawyer Alayna Jay look on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould
Terror charges laid against London attack suspect

Crown says Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province's fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Most Read