A hot and dry Yukon summer can result in wildfires and poor air quality due to smoke. Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of particles and gasses, which include carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds and both coarse and fine particles often invisible to the eye.
Health effects of smoke exposure due to wildfires
Depending on the length of time you are exposed, your health status and the concentration of smoke, wildfire smoke can irritate your lungs and airways, make it harder to breathe and worsen chronic diseases such as heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.
Those who are more at-risk from the impacts of wildfire smoke are:
- Infants and children
- Those with lung disease, heart disease or diabetes
- People participating in sports or strenuous work outdoors
If you or someone you care for is in one of these groups they may need to be more cautious when it is smoky than would the rest of the population.
What should I do if the air is smoky from wildfires?
- Assess air quality using the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) in Whitehorse or in the communities learn about creating a visibility index
- In communities with an airport, air quality can also be assessed through the visibility rating, posted on the Environment Canada website.
- Use common sense regarding outdoor activities: If you experience symptoms then reduce activity level and exposure to smoky air.
- Activate asthma or personal care plan for other chronic illnesses and have an adequate supply of medication available.
- If your symptoms worsen or if you are concerned seek medical attention
- If wildfire smoke is occurring during a time when the outdoor temperature is hotter than normal, be mindful of the heat and take appropriate steps to stay cool
- Most masks are not helpful. The harmful particles in smoke are so small they go right around or through the masks.
- Monitor local radio stations and Wildland Fire Management for updates on smoke and measures to protect your health (see below for links).
- If you experience chest tightness, chest pain, shortness of breath or severe fatigue, seek urgent medical attention or call 911. You should do this even if you don’t have a history of previous heart or lung problems.
- Seek clean air
- At home:
- Turn air conditioning on recirculate or if you have room air cleaners with HEPA filters turn them on.
- Keep indoor air cleaner by avoiding smoking, burning other materials, and activities that produce fumes such as painting.
- In the community:
Spend time at a community facility that has cleaner air. This could be a school, community health centre, community recreation centre or a First Nation building.
Cleaner Air Shelter at Home
A home “cleaner air shelter” is an entire home, or area of the home with filtration that is suitable for reducing wildfire smoke exposure. Use may be part time (e.g., several hours per day) or full time (e.g., day and night) for the duration of the smoke event.
The combination of closing doors and windows and running a portable HEPA filter that is the appropriate size for the room may be sufficient to lower the smoke concentration and relieve symptoms. In extreme smoke situations a cleaner air shelter may be required. The objective is to seal in the good air by sealing any gaps and avoiding allowing bad air in. Air will move from high pressure areas to low pressure through any opening. Pressure differences from wind and temperature are hard to control. Appliances that remove air from the home will create a negative pressure that will pull in outside air and should not be used.
See the documents section below for a full guide on creating a cleaner air shelter.
How to get information on wildfires in Yukon and dealing with smoke:
- Wildland Fire Management
- Yukon Chief Medical Officer of Health
- Phone numbers:
- Wildland Fire Management: 456-3845
- Fire Information: 393-7415
- Wildfire Update Line: 1-800-826-4750
- Report Wildfires: 1-888-798-FIRE (3473)