All wildfire smoke differs and depends upon the fuel type (i.e., trees, shrubs, buildings, etc.) that was burned, the wildfire’s temperature and the wind conditions. In general, wildfire smoke is composed of carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and other organic chemicals, trace minerals, and thousands of other compounds.
Of all the pollutants found in wildfire smoke, fine particulate matter is the most concerning for the public’s health. Particulate Matter, or “PM,” is a general term used to describe a combination of solid particles and liquid droplets that are suspended into the air. Fine Particulate Matter, (PM2.5), is a microscopic pollutant that is smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter (for reference, a strand of hair is 70 microns in diameter). These microscopic particles can enter your eyes or be inhaled deep into your respiratory system. PM2.5 can cause burning, watery and itchy eyes; a runny nose; coughing; phlegm; wheezing; shortness of breath; or illnesses such as bronchitis. Fine particulate matter can also worsen chronic lung or heart conditions; lead to premature death; cause low birth weight in infants; and suppress one’s immune response, therefore impacting how one can fight off viruses and bacteria.
View the latest air quality index (AQI) forecast and current conditions at AirNow.gov. When wildfire smoke hits, go to Fire.AirNow.gov.
Some people work outdoors and cannot remain indoors during smoky conditions. If you must remain outdoors, the following tips will help reduce your exposure and health impacts:
Go to bit.ly/N95HowTo to learn how to properly use an N95 respirator.
Like wildfire, prescribed fire produces smoke that can negatively impact health. Prescribed fire smoke, however, is different from wildfire smoke.
Follow the same recommendations about living more safely with wildfire smoke. Additionally, stay informed about potential prescribed fire smoke in your area by registering for emergency alerts and following your local fire, land management and air quality agencies on social media.
We thank the four anonymous peer reviewers for valuable feedback. This fact sheet was created by the Living With Fire Program in collaboration with the Washoe County Health District. Funding for this project was provided by Bureau of Land Management - Nevada State Office, the Nevada Division of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service- Humboldt Toiyabe. For information about this publication, contact the Living With Fire Program at LWF@unr.edu.
Living With Fire
Helping Nevadans and visitors prepare for wildfire
Roice-Gomes, J., Kay, M., Schnieder, B., Restaino, C., 2021, Living With Smoke: How to be prepared for smoke exposure, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, FS-21-114
An EEO/AA Institution. Copyright ©
2023, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.
A partnership of Nevada counties; University of Nevada, Reno; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture