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Wildfire Smoke Impacts

Fire Prevention

The City of Albany is committed to fire prevention. You can learn more about our wildfire mitigation activities on our Hazard Mitigation page. Visit our Fire Prevention page for information on preventing structure fires.

Potential Health Impacts from Wildfire Smoke

Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of particles from burning vegetation and building materials mixed with gases, including carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and other organic chemicals, nitrogen oxides and trace minerals. Fine particles called participate matter (PM), tiny bits of ash and soot (much of it invisible to the eye), are the principal pollutant of concern from wildfire smoke because they bypass the body’s natural defenses and can get deep into your lungs and potentially your bloodstream. Exposure to such particles in high concentrations can affect both your lungs and your heart, causing difficulty breathing, persistent cough, phlegm, and wheezing.

Most healthy adults and children will recover quickly from smoke exposure and will not suffer long-term health consequences. Children, pregnant women, elderly individuals, and people who are sensitive to air pollution (such as those with preexisting heart and lung disease) may experience more severe acute and chronic symptoms and should take precautions to limit exposure to wildfire smoke.

How to Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke

Residents in the path of wildfire smoke can take certain precautionary measures to protect their lungs from smoke pollution. The elderly, children, and individuals with heart or respiratory conditions in particular are advised to filter air, limit outside activities or otherwise temporarily leave the impacted area. Here are the steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones from the dangers of wildfire smoke:

  1. Check local air quality reports. For real-time updates on the air quality in your area, visit the US EPA’s Air Now website. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is responsible for issuing health advisories in the event of elevated air pollution levels.
  2. Stay indoors. 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 do not have a safe place to go, check with nearby public facilities such as the Albany Senior Center (846 Masonic Ave) and the Albany Community Center/Library (1249 Marin Avenue), which may expand hours in the case of poor air quality or extreme weather or temperature.
  3. Keep indoor air clean. Keep your house and car windows closed. If available, operate air conditioners on the "recirculate" setting and close air intakes to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If possible, install a high efficiency filter with a MERV rating as high as the manufacturer of the system recommends.
  4. Avoid activities that increase indoor pollution. Do not run swamp coolers or whole house fans and avoid activities that increase indoor pollution, such as smoking, using gas, propane and wood-burning stoves and furnaces, frying or broiling food, burning candles and incense, spraying aerosol products, and vacuuming.
  5. Filter your air. Consider using a CARB-certified air cleaning device which can reduce indoor particle levels to further reduce impacts from smoke.
  6. Avoid outdoor activities. People should avoid the outdoors when air quality is poor, especially outdoor work or exercise.
  7. If you must go outside, consider wearing a proper respirator mask. Respirator masks labeled N95 or N100 can filter out fine particles if fitted properly, and can be found at many hardware stores and pharmacies. Children and sensitive groups should not wear these masks because they may not fit properly and can impede breathing. For safety and effectiveness, follow the CDC’s guidelines on respirator masks. Avoid using paper dusk or surgical masks, bandanas, towels or tissues over your mouth or nose since these will not protect your lungs from wildfire smoke.
  8. Drink water. Flush your system after wildfire smoke exposure by drinking plenty of fluids.

Tips for Cleaning After a Wildfire

Fires often result in large amounts of ash, other debris (broken glass, exposed electric wires), and contaminated dust, which may contain toxic substances such as asbestos, arsenic, and lead. These particles can be deposited on indoor and outdoor surfaces and can be inhaled if the ash becomes airborne during cleanup. People who wish to clean their residences after wildfire smoke events should use cleaning practices that reduce re-suspension of particles that have settled, including damp mopping, damp dusting and using a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter-equipped vacuum.

Additional Resources

Bay Area Air Quality Management District

California Air Resources Board

US EPA AirNow Website

CDC Wildfire Facts