Skip Navigation LinksSmoke-Ash-Safety

Emergency Preparedness office (EPO)

Smoke & Ash Safety

Wildfire smoke contains fine particles which are respiratory irritants, and when inhaled deeply, can affect the lungs and the heart. Exposure to high concentrations of fine particles can cause persistent cough, runny nose, phlegm, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.

To avoid potential health issues from smoke and ash inhalation, CDPH recommends taking the following steps:

  • Stay indoors. When it's smoky outside the best way to prevent smoke inhalation is to stay indoors. Whether at home or in a public space, indoor environments that have filtered air and climate control can help prevent smoke and ash inhalation.

  • Adjust AC to avoid drawing in smoky air. If you have a central air conditioning system in your home, set it to re-circulate or close outdoor air intakes to avoid drawing in smoky outdoor air. Be sure to change your air filter on a regular basis.

  • Reduce other sources of indoor air pollution. Smoking cigarettes, using gas, propane and wood-burning stoves and furnaces, spraying aerosol products, frying or broiling meat, burning candles and incense, and vacuuming can all increase particle levels in a home and should be avoided when wildfire smoke is present.

  • Reduce physical activity to reduce inhalation of smoky air. During exercise, people can increase their air intake as much as 20 times from their resting level. Try to exercise indoors if possible.

  • Wear the right mask​. People who must go outside or work outdoors for long periods of time in areas with heavy smoke or where ash is present should wear a well-fitting N95 or P100 respirator mask. These masks are the only kind capable of filtering the harmful particles that can cause respiratory issues. Since wearing a respirator can make it harder to breathe, those with lung or heart problems should ask their doctor before using one.

  • Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). If you have to clean up ash, wear a well-fitting N95 or P100 respirator mask, gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants to avoid skin contact. If you do get ash on your skin, wash it off immediately.

  • Vacuums don't filter small particles. Shop vacuums and other common vacuum cleaners do not filter out the small, harmful particles in ash. They actually blow these particles out in their exhaust into the air where they can be inhaled. The use of shop vacuums and other non-HEPA filter vacuums is not recommended. HEPA filter vacuums could be used, if available.

  • Clean up ash carefully and safely. Avoiding sweeping up ash when it's dry; use water and wet cloth or a mop to clean items and surfaces. Do not use leaf blowers or take other actions that will put ash into the air.

  • Keep children away from ash. Do not allow children to play with ash or be in an area where ash-covered materials are being disturbed. Wash ash off toys before children play with them. Monitor children and young adults as they may be more susceptible to the health and emotional effects of fire recovery.

  • Pets are affected by ash too. Pets can also suffer health effects from smoke and ash. Clean any ash off your pets, make sure they have clean water and seek treatment if they show signs of respiratory distress.

  • Prepare emergency supplies. Make sure you have an emergency kit, complete with medications, copies of prescriptions and medical supplies.

  • Be ready to evacuate. Monitor wildfire activity in your area and be prepared to evacuate if advised.

  • Locate nearby shelters ahead of time, including ones that take pets.

  • Monitor local news outlets for current information and updates on smoke conditions. Californians can also check their local air quality index (AQI) at EPA AirNow.

  • Medical care. If you experience chest pain, chest tightness or shortness of breath, seek medical care immediately.

For more information on how you can protect yourself during extreme heat, visit the CDPH Extreme Heat site, or the California Office of Emergency Services for resources and information about wildfire recovery. Local public health officials can review guidance for local governments in the CDPH publication, "Wildfire Smoke Considerations for California's Public Health Officials - August 2022" (PDF).

Page Last Updated :