Protect Your Health From Smoke During Wildfire Season, Forest Fires and Bosque Fires
Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. Smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases. You can protect your health by trying the 5-3-1 Visibility Method.
Steps for protecting yourself during wildfires and smoky days
Wildfires can spread rapidly giving only short notice to nearby residents and can quickly change air quality. The first thing to consider is protecting your and your family’s health from the hazards of smoke. You can decide if you should remain indoors or if it’s safe to go outdoors by taking a few easy actions, called the 5-3-1 Visibility Method. Step one is to determine how smoky it is based on how far you can see. This is an easy way to assess the air quality. Step two is to decide what you should do based on the quality of the air.
Air Quality – Unhealthy Conditions
Visibility is an easy way to decide if it’s okay to go outside. Use the 5-3-1 visibility method to determine if smoke might impact to your health. First, decide if the visibility is closer to 5 miles, 3 miles or 1 mile. How: Try the Visibility Mapping Tool to determine distances from where you are right now.
Is the visibility just under 5 miles? If it is, air quality is unhealthy for young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness. These people should minimize outdoor activity.
Is the visibility about 3 miles? If it is, air quality is unhealthy. Young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness should avoid all outdoor activities.
Is the visibility about 1 mile? If it is, air quality is very unhealthy. Everyone should avoid all outdoor activities.
Regardless of the visibility, if you are feeling as though you are having health effects from smoke, take precautions to avoid exposure to smoke and see your doctor or other health professional as needed.
What is the 5, 3, or 1 mile radius in your area?
Where are you?
Use this on-line map to draw a 5-3-1-mile radius buffer in the area you are at to estimate visibility. 5-3-1 Mile Map
On a smoky day can you see five miles away?
On a smoky day can you see three miles away or one mile away?
Look for landmarks such as mountains, mesas, hills, or buildings in those mile ranges to help you estimate visibility. If these objects are not easy to see in these mile ranges, then the visibility can be low. After you estimate visibility you can decide what action you should take to protect your health.
Examples of a five-mile radius in three New Mexico metro areas :
Albuquerque Metro Area Five Mile Radius (1.2 MB)
Las Cruces Five Mile Radius (1.1 MB)
Santa Fe Five Mile Radius (1.3 MB)
Daily Smoke Outlook During Wildfire Season: New Mexico Smoke Outlook
If the fire is nearby follow all precautions and instructions given by fire management authorities in the area.
All evacuation orders by the sheriff and/or local fire authority should be followed and any recommendation to leave the area due to unhealthy air quality should be seriously considered.
Swamp Coolers and Air Conditioners During Wildfires
Should you use your swamp cooler or the air conditioner in your car? Avoid using your swamp cooler when the smoke levels are higher than normal. This is because most swamp coolers have filter pore sizes that are much too large to filter out particles from smoke. The typical rule of thumb is if it smells like your swamp cooler is bringing in smoke from the outside, it’s best to turn the unit off until the outside air quality improves. The same rule applies to automobile air-conditioning. Motorists can continue to use their air conditioning systems using re-circulated air.
Smoke and Your Health
Smoke is a complex mixture of carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, hydrocarbons and other organic chemicals, nitrogen oxides, and metals. This mixture can irritate and even injure the mouth, nose, throat, and lung tissue. In healthy people, symptoms of smoke exposure usually include irritation of eyes, nose and throat or breathing discomfort. More severe symptoms may include chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing.
If you have asthma, a chronic lung disease, or cardiovascular disease,
smoke exposure can aggravate these conditions. In smoky conditions, if you develop symptoms which do not respond to your usual medication, see your health care provider immediately.
Prolonged exposure to smoke of all kinds is harmful to people of all ages. Like cigarette smoke, smoke from fires can eventually damage your body’s ability to remove large particles and excess phlegm from your lungs and airway. But, the healthy lung has a great ability to recover from the effects of smoke, provided there is time to recover.
Smoke, Fire and Your Health Factsheet (478.3 KB)
How to tell if smoke is affecting you:
Smoke can cause:
- A scratchy throat
- Irritated sinuses
- Stinging eyes
- A runny nose
- If you have heart or lung disease, smoke might make your symptoms worse.
People who have heart
disease might experience:
- Chest pain
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
Smoke may worsen symptoms for people who have pre-existing respiratory conditions such as respiratory allergies,
and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), in the following ways:
- Inability to breathe normally
- Cough with or without mucus
- Chest discomfort
- Wheezing and shortness of breath
When smoke levels are high enough, even healthy people may experience some of these symptoms. When air quality is unhealthy (visibility is 1.5 to 2.75 miles), people in sensitive groups should avoid all outdoor activities. Everyone else should minimize outdoor activities.
Learn more about Asthma,
Linkage Study: Health Outcomes Associated with Smoke Exposure in Albuquerque During 2011 Wallow Fire
Protecting Your Lungs During a Wildfire
If you cannot leave the smoky area, good ways to protect your lungs from wildfire smoke include staying indoors and reducing physical activity. Wearing a special mask called a “particulate respirator” can also help protect your lungs from wildfire smoke.
When you are advised to stay indoors, keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep windows and doors closed. If it is extremely hot run an air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside and keep window covering closed. If you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere such as at a cooling center or at a relative's or friend's home. During the day consider going to public libraries, senior center and other public places that may have air conditioning. Learn more about avoiding heat-related health problems
(heat stress and heat stroke).
If you cool your home with a swamp cooler do not run it when the air is filled with smoke. This is because these types of coolers do not filter out the smoke and can pull in smoke into your home. This puts you at risk for respiratory health issues. You should spend your time at place that is cooled with an air conditioner.
Do not add to indoor pollution. When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns, such as candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves. Do not vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Do not smoke, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.
Follow your doctor's advice about medicines and about your respiratory management plan if you have asthma or another lung disease. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
Learn how to use masks during fires. (520.3 KB)
Recommended Actions During Smoky Conditions
Decision Making and Actions During Fires and Smoky Conditions For Public Health Officials, Community Leaders, Schools Officials and Event/Recreation Organizers
Do you need to decide if the game should go on, if school be held, or if recreation activities should be cancelled? Do you provide services for sensitive populations or organize outdoor community events? See these recommendations to help you make decisions during fires, smoky conditions and poor air quality. Do you need to decide if the game should go on, if school be held, or if activities should be cancelled? See these recommendations to help you make your decision.
Recommended Actions During A Smoke Event (105.5 KB)
Your Home: Be prepared
According to the national Firewise Communities program, each year, wildfires threaten hundreds of homes, causing millions of dollars in damage. Areas with an abundance of flammable vegetation and periods of dry, hot, windy weather are particularly vulnerable to wildfires. Wildfires can occur suddenly and spread quickly. You can prepare in advance by taking these steps:
- Maintain a firewise landscape around your home, with nonflammable landscaping materials within 5 feet of the house.
- Sweep gutters, roofs, and eaves regularly. Remove dead branches around chimneys and from your yard.
- Remove combustible materials, including wood piles, lawn furniture, doormats, barbecue grills, and tarps, from around your home.
Learn more and be prepared:
Get Ready Factsheet. (236.6 KB)
Did you know wildfires can affect your drinking water?
Wildfire damage to the area of the headwaters of a watershed can increase the magnitude, intensity and frequency of downstream flooding events that typically follow monsoon events. Those who live in an area with a watershed affected by wildfire should expect concentrations of many pollutants to be higher in the runoff following a rain event compared to pre-flood concentrations. Steps should be taken now to prevent post-fire flood waters from contaminating private wells. Learn more about protecting your water and your well.
Returning Home After a Fire
Take extra precaution when returning to homes and businesses after wildfire‐caused evacuations. Unseen dangers may linger long after the flames die down: fires can leave behind hazards such as gas leaks and weakened foundations to exposed wires and power lines.
Tips for safely returning to your home after a wildfire. (479.3 KB)