Air pollution from wildfires

About wildfires

Wildfires often occur in bogs and forest areas during very hot weather.  

Smoke is an irritant and the general health advice is to stay out of the smoke if possible. It can commonly make both the eyes and throat sore, in addition to other health effects such as breathing problems. 

Key public health messages

If there is no direct risk from the fire itself, the general public health advice is:

  • Stay indoors during times when there is high air pollution from wildfire smoke. This applies especially to those at increased risk, for example, children; people who are elderly, pregnant or who have existing medical conditions such as asthma, other lung diseases and heart diseases; and smokers.
  • Keep windows closed during times of high air pollution, while keeping your home cool during periods of high temperature.
  • Reduce other sources of indoor air pollution, such as smoking cigarettes, using propane gas or wood-burning stoves, spraying aerosol products, and frying or grilling food.
  • If people in the immediate area of fire (particularly those most at risk as above) experience any symptoms or have concerns, they should reduce their level of activity and seek access to prompt healthcare advice.
  • Throughout the period of the fire, monitor and follow the recommendations of the local authorities and health services.

Prepare for wildfires

  • If you are in an area that is affected by wildfires, it is best to prepare.
  • If you have underlying medical conditions, talk with a healthcare worker. Plan how you will protect yourself against wildfire smoke. You might need to consider home delivery of supplies. However, that may not be an option for everyone and, if so, think about how best to protect both your health and the health of others when running essential errands.
  • So far in Ireland, we have not had massive wildfires but it is worth being aware of wildfire preparation in other more affected countries. This includes:
    • Stock up on medicine. Store a 7 to 10-day supply of prescription medicines in a waterproof, childproof container to take with you if you evacuate.
    • In anticipation of a potential evacuation, consider developing a family disaster plan.

Take actions to protect yourself from wildfire smoke during the COVID-19 pandemic

  • The best way to protect against the potentially harmful effects of wildfire smoke is to reduce your exposure to the smoke.
  • Limit your outdoor exercise when it is smoky outside or, if you can’t avoid it, reduce the level of your activities, which will slow the level of inhalation of pollution.
  • Given that smoke inhalation is another challenge to your lungs and heart, make sure you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccine.
  • COVID-19 vaccine helps protect you from getting sick or severely ill with COVID-19. It may also help protect people around you.

Know the difference between symptoms from smoke exposure and COVID-19

  • Some symptoms, like dry cough, sore throat, and difficulty breathing can be caused by both wildfire smoke exposure and by COVID-19.
  • Information on symptoms of COVID-19 is available from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre .
  • Link with your healthcare provider (general practitioner, out of hours service, hospital service) if you are experiencing symptoms unrelated to smoke exposure. These symptoms might includes fever or chills, muscle or body aches, or diarrhoea.
  • If you are experiencing severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or chest pain, you should seek prompt medical attention by calling 112 or 999, or by calling ahead to the nearest emergency facility.

People with COVID-19 are at increased risk from wildfire smoke during the pandemic

  • People who currently have, or who are recovering from COVID-19, may be at increased risk of health effects from exposure to wildfire smoke due to compromised heart or lung function related to COVID-19.

Who is most at risk from wildfire smoke?

  • Populations known to be vulnerable to wildfire smoke exposures include:
    • Children less than 18 years;
    • Adults age 65 years or older;
    • Pregnant people;
    • People with chronic health conditions such as heart or lung disease, including asthma and diabetes;
    • Outdoor workers; and
    • People who may not have many options or supports, including those who are homeless and with limited access to medical care.

Where can I find information about current air quality and COVID-19 in my area?

What actions can I take to minimize potential health impacts from wildfire smoke?

  • Understand that your planning may be different this year because of the need to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.
  • The best way to protect against the potentially harmful effects of wildfire smoke is to reduce wildfire smoke exposure.
  • Cleaner air may be found by going to public facilities such as libraries, community centres, and shopping centres.
  • Avoid activities that create more indoor and outdoor air pollution, such as frying foods, sweeping, vacuuming, and using gas-powered appliances.
  • Limit outdoor exercise when it is smoky outside or choose less tiring activities to reduce smoke exposure.

Can masks and face coverings reduce wildfire smoke exposure?

  • FFP2 and FFP3 masks provide protection from wildfire smoke.
  • Cloth face coverings used to slow the spread of COVID-19 offer little protection against harmful air pollutants in wildfire smoke. This is because these coverings do not capture most small particles in smoke.

What actions do people take if they need to evacuate?

  • Pay attention to local guidance about updated plans for evacuations and shelters, including potential shelters for your pets.
  • Evacuate safely if you are asked to evacuate by public authorities or if you decide to evacuate.
  • When you check on neighbours and friends before evacuating, be sure to follow all health recommendations to protect yourself and others.
  • If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow recommendations from local and national government for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Updated 11/08/2022.