Wildfire smoke and your health
Air quality updates
Garfield County operates three air monitoring sites in Garfield County that collect real-time data on particulate matter, which is a primary component of smoke. You can visit any of our live websites in Rifle, Carbondale, and Battlement Mesa for continuously up-to-date information.
Residents can sign-up to receive air quality advisories from CDPHE. Garfield County also strongly encourages registering on Everbridge, the county’s Emergency Notification System, at garco911.org. An “Air Quality” option is available to receive alerts when air quality may reach levels that are unhealthy.
If smoke becomes thick in your neighborhood or visibility is less than five miles, smoke may have reached levels that are unhealthy.
Health effects of wildfire smoke
Wildfire smoke contains a complex mixture of gases and fine particles, the most dangerous of which are fine particles. Symptoms of exposure to wildfire smoke include coughing, trouble breathing, stinging eyes, scratchy throat, and headaches. Wildfire smoke can have some mental health affects too. You may experience changes in sleep patterns, lack of energy, or feelings of hopelessness and irritability.
Who is most at risk during a smoke event?
- People who have asthma
- Adults over the age of 65
- Children below the age of 5
- Pregnant women
- People with chronic heart or lung disease or circulatory system disease
Should I exercise while it’s smoky?
The presence of some visible haze does not mean air quality is unhealthy or hazardous. Often when we see regional impacts from wildfire smoke, particulate matter levels remain in the “moderate” category. What does the “moderate” category mean for you? Only unusually sensitive individuals should consider limiting outdoor activity and remain in clean indoor air environments. If you were thinking of going for a hike or letting the kids play outside today, feel it out. Stay at an easy effort level for that bike ride.
However, air quality conditions during a wildfire event can change rapidly. Smoke may accumulate in your area depending on fire behavior and weather conditions. Keep an eye on the 5-mile visibility index. If the air quality is affecting your breathing, avoid outdoor activity and keep indoor air clean.
Actions we can take to stay healthy
- Keep indoor air clean – close windows and doors and keep a “tight” house. If your home has a central air conditioning, set it to recirculate. If you do not have central air conditioning, purchase a HEPA filter and make sure it matches the size of room where it will operate. This will allow you to filter your home while periodically keeping windows open for cooling. Limit cooking methods that produce smoke, and don’t vacuum or burn candles.
- Limit outdoor activity – when the air is unhealthy, indoors may be the best place to be. Avoid strenuous activities in heavy smoke. Visit a local gym or recreation center for some fun indoors!
- Temporarily relocate or visit a clean air location – if you can’t get clean and cool air at home, consider visiting a public space like a shopping center, community center, or museum.
- Check on friends and family – mitigate stress and make sure your loved ones are safe.
- Use a respirator mask as a last resort – particulate respirator masks must fit tightly to work properly, so they actually make breathing more difficult and are not recommended for folks who already have trouble breathing, or for use while engaged in strenuous physical activity. One-strap masks and bandanas do almost nothing to filter out the particles and gasses in smoke.