ABC’s of your Health: Staying healthy during poor air quality due to smoke from fires

Due to the multiple fires in the region including the Ferguson Fire in Mariposa County and other fires surrounding the Central Valley, the air quality is being affected in locations throughout the entire Valley, prompting local air pollution officials to issue a health cautionary statement Valley-wide.

According to San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District officials, smoke impacts will continue until the fires are extinguished.

Smoke from wildfires produces particulate matter which can cause burning eyes, runny nose, coughing, scratchy throat, irritated sinuses and headaches as well as can trigger asthma attacks, aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases, and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Where conditions warrant, people with heart or lung disease should follow their doctors’ advice for dealing with episodes of particulate exposure. People with existing respiratory conditions, young children and elderly people are especially susceptible to the health effects from these pollutants. Anyone being exposed to poor air quality or wildfire smoke should move inside to an air-conditioned environment, advised the Air Pollution Control District.

Maria’s photo
ABC’s of your Health

Wildfires need not be nearby for these symptoms to occur; with the proper weather conditions there can have smoke from fires far away.

Krista Dommer, Coordinator, Public Information & Communication with the Health Promotion & Chronic Disease Prevention at San Joaquin County Public Health Services, said it is important for people to take precautions to protect their health from wildfire smoke as active wildfires and changing wind patterns, air quality could be impacted for many days to come and will be variable and unpredictable. Air quality may improve at times or get worse, very quickly.

Even though the health risk might be rated as low, if you see or smell smoke, you are likely being impacted by it, said Dommer.

To reduce or eliminate breathing problems or other symptoms, the San Joaquin County

Public Health Officer, Dr. Kismet Baldwin urges all residents and visitors to:

1. Know if you or a family member is at risk: If you have heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, COPD, emphysema or asthma, you are at higher risk of having health problems from smoke; Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke, possibly because they are more likely to have heart or lung diseases than younger people; Children are more likely to be affected by health threats from smoke because their airways are still developing and because they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults. Children also are more likely to be active outdoors.

2. Take precautions to protect your health and that of your family: If you see or smell smoke in your immediate area, stay indoors, if possible, with windows and doors closed and air conditioning units on recirculate to avoid drawing outside air into buildings; Keep air conditioning in the home and in the car on “re-circulating” air so that smoke is not drawn in from the outside; If your home becomes too hot, consider leaving your home and visiting an indoor mall, library, or a friend or relative’s house that has air conditioning; Those with heart or lung disease, older adults, pregnant women, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion and either move or reschedule outdoor activities. All others should also reduce prolonged or heavy exertion and take breaks during outdoor activity; It is recommended that parents and school administrators check air quality readings before allowing children outdoors while air quality is unhealthy; Make sure family members with heart disease or lung problems such as asthma, bronchitis or emphysema, are following their doctor’s advice about medicines and about their respiratory management plan. Call the doctor if your symptoms worsen; Because of the serious air quality conditions in parts of San Joaquin County, residents should avoid adding additional air pollution by curtailing air polluting activities such as wood burning, lawn mowing and leaf blowing, driving, and barbecuing.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s Real-time Air Advisory Network (RAAN) monitors are designed to detect the fine particulates (called PM2.5 which are microscopic in size and not visible to the human eye) that exist in smoke. Ash particles are much larger in size and will not be detected by our monitors. Therefore, an area may be experiencing ash impacts from potential fires while the PM monitor reflects a moderate reading. If you can smell smoke or see ash that is an indication that you should be treating air quality conditions as “Unhealthy” (RAAN Level 4 or higher) and remain indoors.

Residents in the Central Valley can check the District’s wildfire page at for information about any current wildfires and whether they are impacting the Valley.

The District’s Real-time Air Advisory Network (RAAN) provides localized air quality data from an extensive air-monitoring network which allows Valley residents to track PM at any Valley address by visiting Residents can also follow air quality conditions by downloading the free “Valley Air” app, available in the Apple store or Google Play.

For more information, visit or call a District office in Fresno (559) 230-6000, Modesto (209) 557-6400 or Bakersfield (661) 392-5500.

For more information about protecting yourself from wildfire smoke, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention webpage about wildfire smoke.

Additional information may be found at:

▪ San Joaquin County Public Health Services,

▪ San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District,

▪ Healthy Air Living,

▪ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

María G. Ortiz-Briones: 559-441-6782, @TuValleTuSalud