Your Health During a Wildfire
An increase in wildfire activity typically results in smoky skies and reduced air quality. A Smoky Skies Bulletin is a special public advisory to highlight the regional impacts of wildfire smoke. You can also check the Air Quality Health Index to help you understand what the air quality around you means for your health.
Wildfire smoke can be especially harmful for infants and young children, older people and people with pre-existing heart and lung conditions. The best way to protect yourself is to reduce exposure. Here are a few tips to help you breathe easier:
- Stay indoors and keep the air clean (windows/doors closed, no smoking, no burning fireplaces/candles/incense, no vacuuming).
- When in a vehicle, keep windows closed with air conditioning set to recirculate.
- Reduce time spent outdoors and avoid vigorous outdoor activities.
- Visit places with controlled air supply, such as shopping malls, swimming pools, public libraries, etc.
- People with asthma or other chronic illnesses should ensure they have an adequate supply of inhalers/medication and should activate their asthma or personal protection plans.
- High-quality, portable air cleaners that use HEPA filtration can effectively remove smoke particles from the indoor air. People with respiratory conditions should consider purchasing HEPA filtration units.
- For non-emergency medical advice or assistance, visit HealthLinkBC or call 8-1-1.
- Only call 9-1-1 during an emergency, such as if someone is having difficulties breathing or is in cardiovascular distress.
The smoke is bad! Should I self-evacuate to another community? Sheltering-in-place (staying where you are) is usually the best way to reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke, but only if you have access to clean indoor air in your home or community. Because smoky conditions shift and move, self-evacuating to another community may not help you reduce your exposure. In fact, unnecessary relocation or travel can trigger anxiety that may cause other negative health effects.
Wildfire & Your Mental Health
In addition to ensuring your physical safety and the safety of those around you, it’s important to take care of your mental health, too. To protect your wellbeing and support others effectively, consider these simple tips:
- Limit your exposure to wildfire media coverage; viewing traumatic images can be overwhelming and can make it harder to think clearly.
- Try and return to your daily routines as soon as possible.
- Get enough sleep, eat nutritious foods and stay hydrated.
- Be kind and patient with yourself and others.
- Seek support when you need it. If you’re feeling sad, mad, or confused—or even feeling nothing at all—reach out to others for help. For mental health support, call the BC Crisis Centre at 310-6789 (no area code required).
For more detailed information, review the Canadian Mental Health Association’s tips for coping through a natural disaster (PDF) or visit Natural Disaster Health. If you have been evacuated, you can also ask an Emergency Support Services volunteer about the mental health or counselling support available to you.
Wildfire & Mental Health Support for Children
During traumatic events, expect children to need more attention and reassurance. Children experiencing stress or anxiety may be clingy, reactive or act-out with disruptive behaviour. They may fear strangers or family members and may avoid situations or activities they once enjoyed (e.g. going to school, playing with others, etc.). They may also revert to habits from an earlier age such as thumb-sucking or bed-wetting. For children, these are all normal reactions to stressful situations.
To help stressed or anxious children, consider these tips:
- Remain calm when your child is anxious.
- Reassure them they are safe and have support.
- Have thoughtful discussions about the situation, providing concrete explanations of what has happened.
- Explain that good people are helping to make the situation better.
- Provide opportunities for children to speak openly about their feelings.
- Practice ways to relax (e.g. mindfulness or breathing exercises).
- Work to keep a daily routine and take part in activities as a family.