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Californians Affected by Wildfire Smoke Should Take Steps to Protect their Health​

July 5, 2024
NR24-016
Contact: media@cdph.ca.gov

Air pollutants affect all Californians, but are particularly risky for people with chronic conditions, pregnant people, children, older adults​ and first responders​

What You Need To Know: CDPH is warning of potential health problems caused by wildfire smoke and recommending that Californians, especially vulnerable individuals and groups, take steps to reduce breathing in air pollutants. 

Sacramento – With wildfire smoke and reduced air quality affecting many California communities, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is urging Californians to take steps to protect themselves from air pollutants. Wildfire smoke can affect anyone’s health, but some people are at higher risk, including pregnant people, children, older adults, first responders, and people with chronic conditions like asthma, COPD, diabetes, kidney disease or heart disease. 

“All Californians should be aware of the risks of wildfire smoke and ash inhalation and take steps to avoid breathing in pollutants, including reducing outdoor activity and staying indoors when possible, said Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer. Wildfire smoke can make anyone sick, but it’s particularly unhealthy for vulnerable individuals, including children, people who are pregnant, and those with chronic health conditions. 

How Californians Can Protect Their Health: To avoid possible health problems due to wildfire smoke and poor air quality, CDPH recommends taking the following steps: ​

  • Stay informed. Check the air quality and sign up for updates. Californians can check their local air quality index (AQI) at AirNow. 
  • Stay indoors. If the air quality is bad, stay inside as much as possible and close all windows, doors and vents. 
  • Adjust your A/C. Change the settings on your A/C unit to re-circulate or close outdoor air intakes to avoid drawing in smoky outdoor air. Running an air purifier can also help. 
  • Wear a mask. If you must go outside, wear a well-fitting N95 mask. This is especially important for those who must work outdoors for long periods, in areas with heavy smoke. 

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. Smoke from wildfires can also cause eye irritation, reduced lung function, and bronchitis. Those with asthma or another lung disease should keep at least a 7-day supply of medication on hand and call a health care provider if nearby wildfires worsen breathing issues.   

In Case of Evacuation: Wildfires can also lead to emergency evacuations and it's important to follow the direction of local officials when evacuations are ordered. Current evacuation information can often be found through monitoring local news outlets as well as official social media channels of emergency responders such as a sheriff's office, police department, and fire department.  ​

Knowing the “Ps of Preparedness” can help you react quickly if a wildfire threatens your area: 

  • People (help children, older adults and people with disabilities)  
  • Pets 
  • Papers (important documents)   
  • Phones    
  • Prescriptions (and glasses)  
  • Pictures 
  • PCs (computers) (for the information stored)    
  • Plastic (credit cards and cash)    

Additional Information: For more information on how you can protect yourself during extreme heat, Heat Ready California. Additional resources and information can also be found at CDPH’s Extreme Heat site and the California Office of Emergency Services 

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, 17.8MB). 

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