About Smoke and Health
Smoke is a form of air pollution.
It primarily consists of particulate matter but includes other gaseous
air pollutants such as hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and carbon
monoxide. Exposure to all these air pollutants can cause health effects or
aggravate existing health conditions. Every year millions of
acres of land burn across the United States. Some of these fires are
prescribed – set under controlled conditions to manage forests or
agricultural lands. Others are wildfires started by lightning or humans.
How to protect yourself and your family from harmful effects of
smoke, ash, and dust particles
It is hard to tell where ash or soot from a wildfire will go, or
how winds will affect the level of dust particles in the air, so it
is important to use your own judgment.
- If you smell smoke, or see a lot of particles and ash in the
air, use common sense. Everyone, especially people with
heart or lung disease (including asthma), older adults, and
children, should limit time spent outdoors, and avoid outdoor
- If outdoor air is bad, try to keep indoor air as clean as
possible. Keep windows and doors closed — unless it's extremely
hot. Don’t use fireplaces, gas logs, or candles, don’t vacuum,
don't smoke, and don't fry or broil foods in ways that produce a
lot of smoke inside. Visit this webpage for more
information on indoor air
- If you have an air conditioner, run it with the fresh air
intake closed and the filter clean. If you have a "whole
house fan" turn it off when the air quality is poor, unless it's
- If you have symptoms of lung or heart disease that may be
related to exposure to smoke or particles, including repeated coughing,
shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest
tightness or pain, palpitations, nausea or unusual fatigue or
lightheadedness, call your doctor.
- When smoke is heavy for a prolonged period of time, fine particles can
build up indoors even though you may not be able to see them. If you have
heart or lung disease, are an older adult, or have children, talk with your
doctor about whether and when you should leave the area.
- If ash is falling, avoid skin contact with ash, avoid
stirring up particles through cleanup activities, and avoid
exercising outdoors in areas with large amounts of ash. See
below for ash cleanup tips.
- Prepare: go to the
and make a Wildfire Action
- When air quality improves, air out your home. Be prepared to
close windows and doors again if air quality worsens.
- Avoid strenuous activity indoors when air quality is poor.
Drink plenty of fluids.
- Minimize driving, and when you do drive, use the "recirculate"
option on your vehicles' air system, but be sure to air out your
- If air quality is poor for a prolonged period, consider
going somewhere nearby where the air is cleaner for several
hours, even if you can't leave your home for a longer period.
- Visit our webpage on cleaner
To check particle pollution levels at the
Santa Maria, Lompoc (H Street Station), Goleta and
Cleaning up ash, soot, and dust
Note: Anyone with heart or lung problems should not do ash cleanup.
When houses burn, asbestos fibers from building materials may
become airborne, creating a potentially hazardous situation. Cleanup can
make conditions worse if not done properly. Handling materials that
contain asbestos can be hazardous to your health. For more information see
Asbestos and Fire Cleanup - Precautions.
For general ash cleanup, try to:
- Use damp cloths, spray areas lightly with water, and direct
ash-filled water to ground areas, and away from the runoff
system. Try to use the minimum amount of water necessary to
avoid overtaxing runoff systems.
- Use vacuums with HEPA filters, sweep gently with a broom.
- Take your car to the car wash.
- Wash off toys that have been outside in the ash; clean ash
- Avoid any skin contact with the ash (wear gloves,
- Use a high-quality shop/industrial vacuum outfitted with a
high-efficiency particulate filter and a disposable collection
filter bag. Ash can be bagged and put into trash cans, so it
will not be stirred up again into the air. Special attachments
can be used to clean ash from gutters, so that it will not blow
back over outdoor spaces. Attachments and disposable bags are
available from most hardware stores.
For more information...
Sources of information
Contact Mary Byrd
at 805-961-8833 with questions.