Wildfire Smoke and Health

During a wildfire, if you can see or smell smoke, it is recommended that you avoid outdoor physical activities. If visibility is decreased in your area to less than five miles, smoke has reached levels that are unhealthy.

Wildfire smoke has a serious impact on the air quality and health of people living in Colorado. Wildfire smoke contains: 

  • a serious pollution called fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, which can be extremely harmful to your lungs
  • a variety of gases and particles from the materials that fuel the fire, including ozone, carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic compounds, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter—pollutants linked to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses 

Particles from smoke tend to be very small and can be inhaled into your lungs. Even in healthy people, this can make it difficult to breathe. Particulate matter can also affect the body’s immune system.

Colorado public health officials typically issue an advisory for PM2.5, the primary pollutant in wildfire smoke, when air monitors read a 24-hour average of 35.5 or greater. 

Take Precautions

Children, Older Adults, & People with Respiratory Conditions

  • If you can see or smell smoke, children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with pre-existing respiratory conditions (asthma, COPD, chronic heart disease, and diabetes) should stay inside with the windows and doors closed.
  • If it is 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. 
  • Watch for signs of heat exhaustion, including fatigue, nausea, headache, and vomiting, and contact your doctor immediately if these occur.
  • Exposure to wildfire smoke also increases the risk of preterm birth during pregnancy.

Summer & Sports Camps

  • Avoid outdoor camp activities if you can see or smell smoke.
  • Children are more likely to be affected by wildfire 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. 

Older Adults

  • Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke, as they have higher levels of heart or lung diseases than younger people. 
  • Hospital admissions in areas experiencing smoke from wildfires show increased visits among Medicare recipients. 
  • Check on older friends or relatives.
  • 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.

Healthy Individuals

  • If you can see or smell smoke, you should limit outdoor physical activities and stay indoors if at all possible.
  • When smoke levels are high, even healthy people may experience coughing, a scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, stinging eyes, and a runny nose. 

Pets & Livestock

General Preventive Actions

  • Keep windows and doors closed.
  • If you have an air conditioner, run it, but make sure that the fresh air intake vent is closed and the filter is clean. If not, turn the system off. Do this in your car too.
  • Consider using a portable evaporative cooler in your house to avoid pulling pollution into your home. 
  • Move to another location away from the smoke.
  • If you use a mask, use an N-95 mask. Do not rely on paper dust masks found at hardware stores. These masks are not designed to block the small particles generated by wildfire smoke. 

Wildfire and Smoke Resources