Wildfires & Smoke

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.

How to Tell if Smoke is Affecting You

In some people, smoke can cause:

  • Asthma exacerbations
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Headaches
  • Irritated sinuses
  • Runny nose
  • Scratchy throat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stinging eyes

If you have heart or lung disease, smoke might make your symptoms worse.

Smoke-Related Health Problems

Jefferson County Public Health reminds everyone that smoke-related health problems primarily depend on the level of exposure, individual age and physical susceptibility. Healthy individuals will normally recover quickly from smoke exposure and may not suffer long-term consequences; however, certain sensitive populations may experience more severe acute and chronic symptoms from smoke exposure.

Heart Disease Risks

People who have heart disease might experience:

  • Chest pain
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue

Respiratory Risks

Smoke may worsen symptoms for people who have pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as respiratory allergies, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), in the following ways:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Cough with or without mucus
  • Inability to breathe normally
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath

When smoke levels are high enough, even healthy people may experience some of these symptoms.

Are You at Risk?

  • If you have heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, COPD, emphysema or asthma, you are at higher risk of having health problems than healthy people. 
  • Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke, possibly because they are more likely to have heart or lung diseases than younger people.
  • Children are more likely to be affected by health threats from smoke because their airways are still developing, and because they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults. Children also are more likely to be active outdoors.

Protect Yourself

Pay Attention to Local Air Quality Reports

Listen and watch for news or health warnings about smoke. Citizens can call 303-758-4848 or check today's air quality online [external link] to learn whether a "red" advisory is in effect.

Stay Indoors to Avoid Smoke

Keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep windows and doors closed unless it is extremely hot outside. 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. If you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere.

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.

Listen to Your Doctor

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.

Do Not Rely on Dust Masks for Protection

Paper "comfort" or "dust" masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from smoke. An “N95” mask, properly worn, will offer some protection. For more information about effective masks, see the Respirator Fact Sheet [external link] provided by CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.