What's the Situation?

Smoke from wildfires has become a recurring seasonal air quality hazard in the western United States and British Columbia. In the Puget Sound region in 2018, wildfire smoke led to 24 days of poor air quality, including nine days that were considered either unhealthy for sensitive groups or unhealthy for everyone. 

This year, the threat of wildfire smoke is compounded by the ongoing presence of COVID-19 in our communities. Smoke may create additional risk for people with COVID-19 and worsen symptoms. So while wildfire smoke may seem like a less pressing threat in light of the global pandemic, COVID-19 gives us even more reason to be prepared for wildfire smoke this summer.

How to Stay Safe

  • Check local air quality reports and listen to news or health warnings for your community.
  • Avoid physical exertion outdoors if smoke is in the air.
  • If you have asthma or other lung diseases, make sure you follow your doctor's directions about taking your medicines and follow your asthma management plan. Call your health care provider if your symptoms worsen.
  • Stay indoors and keep indoor air as clean as possible.
  • Keep windows and doors closed. Track the Air Quality Index (AQI) and open your windows for fresh air when the air quality improves.
  • Pay attention to the heat indoors. If you can, run an air conditioner, set it to re-circulate and close the fresh-air intake. Make sure to change the filter regularly.
  • Use an air cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to reduce indoor air pollution. A HEPA filter will reduce the number of irritating fine particles in indoor air. A HEPA filter with charcoal will help remove some of the gases from the smoke. Do not use an air cleaner that produces ozone. Learn how to make a clean air fan.
  • Consider leaving the area if the air quality is poor and it's not possible to keep indoor air clean, especially if you or those you are caring for are having health problems or are in a sensitive group.
  • Protect your pets from poor air quality and smoke. Tips for protecting pets and livestock.
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You can also call the Customer Service Bureau for help understanding this page: 206-684-CITY (2489) and TTY 7-1-1.

Masks and Wildfire Smoke

The right mask and proper fit can reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke, but they don't work for everyone. Download the mask safety tips flyer from the Washinton Department of Health.

Face coverings protect against COVID-19 but cloth masks don't provide much protection from wildfire smoke. N95 respirators can provide protection if worn properly, but need to be saved for health care and front-line workers while supplies are limited and we are fighting COVID-19. If you have a pre-existing condition that might make you more sensitive to smoke, consult your medical provider.

  • Wearing a mask may worsen existing medical conditions. Wearing a mask makes it more difficult to breathe because it takes extra effort to move air through the mask. If you have breathing problems (like asthma or COPD) or heart disease, check with your healthcare provider before using any mask.
  • Some masks offer limited protection. Only use a mask after first trying other, more effective ways to avoid smoke, like staying indoors and reducing outdoor activity. Respirator masks labeled N95 or N100 can filter out fine particles from smoke but not hazardous gases (like carbon monoxide). Cloth (wet or dry), paper masks, and tissues will NOT filter out wildfire smoke.
  • Masks must fit tightly. Straps must go above and below the ears and the mask should fit over the nose and under the chin. The mask should not let air in from the sides around the nose and chin. Masks don't work on people with beards or young children because they do not fit snugly on their faces.
  • Questions? Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.