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How to Deal with Wildfire Smoke in Alberta

Albertans have been dealing with wildfire smoke regularly for the past few years. Unfortunately the smoke is arriving earlier and earlier each year. It can also affect those living hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away from the wildfire itself. Wind and weather systems transport the smoke leaving residents to deal with poor air quality and its side effects.

Besides reducing visibility and making everything smell like campfire wildfire smoke causes poor air quality. It can irritate your eyes causing burning and watering. It also irritates your respiratory system. If you have an existing cardiovascular or respiratory condition you can experience worsened symptoms. According to Alberta Health here are the symptoms of wildfire smoke affecting your health:

  • Coughing
  • Phlegm
  • Wheezing
  • Irritated throat
  • Irritated sinuses (like a burning sensation in your nose)
  • Watery eyes
  • Dry eyes
  • Shortness of breath (or asthma attack)
  • Headaches
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue

Who is most at risk with wildfire smoke in Alberta?

If you have a heart or lung condition you are most at risk from poor air quality. Pregnant women children and the elderly are also more likely to be affected. Keep a close eye on your condition and follow your doctor’s recommendations for dealing with poor air quality.

However everyone is affected at least somewhat by poor air quality. Take the appropriate precautions and call 811 if you have any concerns. If you experience severe difficulties breathing or chest pain call 911.

How to Deal with Poor Air Quality in Alberta

Reducing or stopping your outdoor physical activity is the first logical step. You may also want to stay indoors as much as possible especially if you’re at risk.

Here’s what you can do in your home to deal with Alberta’s poor air quality:

  • Don’t light any candles.
  • Don’t use smoke-producing appliances.
  • Don’t use wood-burning fireplaces or backyard fire pits.
  • Close fireplace dampers on wood-burning fireplaces.
  • Turn down the furnace thermostat and fans to their lowest setting.
  • Close floor registers.
  • Turn off any fan systems that pull in outside or “fresh” air.
  • Turn off your A/C unit or close the fresh-air intake.
  • Close and lock your windows and doors.
  • Keep your garage closed as much as possible.
  • Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) home air filter or purifier.

You may also find the bad air quality bothersome when you’re driving. If you need to drive keep your windows and vents closed. You should also run your car fans on re-circulate to reduce the amount of outside air taken in.

Staying hydrated helps you deal with the symptoms of wildfire smoke such as coughing and throat issues. You can also use eye drops if you’re experiencing dry eyes. The HEPA air filter or purifiers are also a good option for your home. Surgical masks won’t filter out the harmful particles but respirator masks labelled with N95 will help.

How can I stay informed about wildfire smoke in Alberta?

Local news sources are widely reporting on Alberta’s wildfire smoke. The Government of Alberta also has several excellent resources for tracking and dealing with wildfire smoke. There is an air quality map for across Alberta so you can check the air quality in your area (1 is the best 10+ is the worst). Alberta Health Services also provides recommendations on air quality and has a great pamphlet on wildfire smoke.