Canada Wildfire

Huge health risk from wildfire smoke exposure to Canadians

Smoke from wildfires in forests and grasslands can be a major source of air pollution for Canadians. Communities across Canada regularly experience wildfire smoke events. This is expected to continue as Canada is warming much faster than the rest of the world, providing ideal conditions for more frequent and longer wildfires. Wildfire season typically runs from early April to late October. As wildfires burn through forests and grasslands, they produce dense smoke.

It is difficult to predict:

when fires will occur

how big they will be

how much smoke they will generate

what direction the smoke will travel

Wildfire smoke may be carried hundreds or thousands of kilometres from the fire zone. This means smoke from other parts of the world can impact communities in Canada.

To help Canadians be better prepared, wildfire smoke forecast maps are available through the Government of Canada’s FireWork system. FireWork is an air quality prediction system that indicates how smoke from wildfires is expected to move across North America over the next 72 hours.

Symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure

Who is most at risk of the effects of wildfire smoke

Some people are at higher risk of health problems when exposed to wildfire smoke.

This includes:

  • seniors
  • pregnant people
  • people who smoke
  • infants and young children
  • people who work outdoors
  • people involved in strenuous outdoor exercise
  • people with an existing illness or chronic health conditions, such as:
  • cancer
  • diabetes
  • lung or heart conditions

During heavy smoke conditions, everyone is at risk regardless of their age or health.

Milder and more common symptoms of smoke exposure include:


a mild cough

production of phlegm

sore and watery eyes

nose, throat and sinus irritation

You can typically manage these symptoms without medical intervention.


More serious but less common symptoms of smoke exposure include:


  • dizziness
  • chest pains
  • severe cough
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing (including asthma attacks)
  • heart palpitations (irregular heart beat)
  • If you have any of these symptoms, talk to a health care provider or seek urgent medical attention.

Less commonly, exposure to wildfire smoke can lead to:

  • stroke
  • heart attack
  • premature death
  • If you think you are having a medical emergency, dial 9-1-1 and seek immediate medical care.

Medical preparedness

If you, or members of your family, are in 1 or more of the at-risk groups and are in a region where wildfire smoke affects air quality, be prepared by:

  • speaking with a doctor or health care provider about developing a management plan for wildfire smoke events
  • maintaining a supply of necessary medications at home and always carrying these medications with you during wildfire season. Work with your health care provider to create a plan on what to do in case your medications are unable to stabilize your condition.

Protecting your indoor air

It’s important that the air you breathe inside your home is clean, especially if you have to stay inside due to wildfire events. You can prepare your home by finding ways to keep the wildfire smoke out and to keep indoor air clean.

Keep wildfire smoke out

Prevent wildfire smoke from entering your home by:

  • properly sealing windows and doors, and keeping them closed when the temperature is comfortable
  • installing the best quality air filter that your ventilation system can handle based on manufacturers’ recommendations
  • ensuring you have at least one functioning carbon monoxide alarm in your home

Keep indoor air clean and safe

Protect the air in your home by:

  • using a certified portable air purifier to filter particles from wildfire smoke
  • ensuring you have at least one functioning carbon monoxide alarm in your home
  • having air conditioning and humidification/dehumidification capabilities present (maintain humidity levels between 30 and 50%)

Protecting your health from wildfire smoke

The best way to protect your health is to reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke.

Use care when spending time outdoors during a wildfire smoke event

Check local air quality conditions to determine whether it’s safe to be outdoors. Pay attention to:

Limit outdoor activities and strenuous physical activities as much as possible. It is important to listen to your body and reduce or stop activities if you are experiencing symptoms.

Make sure the air in your home is clean

Stay indoors and keep windows and doors closed. If it is too warm, turn on the air conditioning if possible.  If you do not have air conditioning and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek out local cooling or clean air space.

Use a portable air purifier in a room where you spend a lot of time. This can help decrease the fine particles from wildfire smoke in that room.

Limit the use of exhaust fans when you’re not cooking.

If you can’t maintain cool, clean air inside your home during a wildfire smoke event, be aware of locations in your community where you can find clean air and take a break from the smoke.

Safe places that typically have air conditioning and filtered air include:

Contact your local health or emergency authorities to find the most up-to-date information about publicly accessible locations.

Take care of your mental health

It’s not unusual to feel anxious, stressed out, sad or isolated during a smoke event. Eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising indoors and staying in contact with friends can help. Anyone who is having trouble coping with symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression should seek help from a health care provider. Remember, a wildfire smoke event may last a long time, but it will eventually end. Sharing positive outlooks and attitudes will help you get through it.

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