Wildfires

Wildfires Island Health

Forest fires can be an inevitable part of living in British Columbia. The following information is provided to reduce your personal health risk.  

Air Quality

Island Health works with the Ministry of Environment to monitor air quality impacts due to wildfires in the region. For the most up to date conditions and a list of active advisories, please visit BC Air Quality

Smoke can affect each person differently, based on their health, age and exposure. Learn more at how to stay safe and healthy during a wildfire.

People with heart or lung conditions may be more sensitive to the effects of smoke and should watch for any change in symptoms that may be due to smoke exposure. If you notice any symptoms, take steps to reduce your exposure to smoke and if necessary see a physician. People with symptoms should go to their health-care provider, walk-in clinic or emergency department depending on severity of symptoms.

Smoke levels may be lower indoors; however, levels of smoke particles will still increase. If you stay indoors, be aware of your symptoms.

Residents with asthma, COPD or other chronic illness should activate their asthma, respiratory or personal care plan. 

Tips to reduce your personal risk:

  • Use common sense regarding outdoor physical activity – if your breathing becomes difficult or uncomfortable, stop or reduce the activity
  • Stay cool and drink plenty of fluids
  • Consider a commercially available HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter that can further reduce poor indoor air quality near the device
  • Reduce indoor pollution sources such as smoking or burning other materials
  • Consider visiting a location with cooler filtered air, like a shopping mall or library
  • Reduce your smoke exposure by moving to cleaner air if available
  • Pay attention to local air quality reports – air quality may be poor even though smoke may not be visible
  • The best way to protect your health from wildfire smoke is to seek cleaner air. If you cannot access cleaner air, some face masks can provide protection from wildfire smoke. However, it is important to be aware of the limitations and potential risks – please visit this BCCDC fact sheet for more.
  • Maintaining good overall health will help prevent health effects resulting from short-term exposure to air pollution

Community Virtual Care

If you experience mild to moderate symptoms of smoke inhalation from wildfires (such as, but not limited to: dizziness, wheezy breathing, shortness of breath, headache) and are eligible for Community Health Services (see criteria below), then Island Health’s Community Virtual Care program may be able to support you. Using remote patient monitoring tools, you will have the support of a registered nurse to monitor your symptoms. The nurse will contact you to review your results, answer your questions, and communicate with your doctor or nurse practitioner.

Criteria:

  • Canadian citizenship 
  • 19 years of age or older 
  • Must be a resident of BC for three months 
  • Unable to function independently because of chronic, health-related problems; or require end-of-life care for a life-limiting condition; or require care following discharge from hospital; or health conditions require care at home rather than hospitalization 

If you or a family member meet the criteria above and have mild to moderate symptoms of smoke inhalation from wildfires, call your local CHS Intake Office to self-refer to the program:

North Island: 1-866-928-4988
Central Island: 1-877-734-4101
South Island: 1-888-533-2273

This program is not a replacement for hospitalization or doctor/nurse practitioner visits. Seek medical attention is you have life-threatening or significant symptoms. 

Dual smoke and extreme heat events

Stay cool by using an air conditioner. Be sure to turn on “recirculate” (instead of bringing in outdoor air) and use a HEPA filter in your ventilation system (which may include an air conditioner). If you do not have an air conditioner, it may not be safe to stay inside with doors and windows closed when it is hot outside. For more, visit Health Canada.  

Overheating is generally a bigger risk to health than smoke inhalation. Many people are at risk of potentially severe injury and death if they overheat, while a much smaller proportion are at risk of severe acute respiratory or cardiovascular attack. Individuals most at risk from smoke are also at risk from heat. Therefore, most people should prioritize staying as cool as possible in very hot weather.

Both heat and smoke are important environmental exposures and their risks may be compounding when they happen at the same time. Seek cooler, cleaner indoor air – at home if possible, and elsewhere if not.

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