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Wildfires and Your Health

Wildfires and Your Health

Learn about B.C. wildfires, preparing for an emergency, air quality, food and water safety, evacuation information, and more.

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Last updated: June 2023

Every year in British Columbia there are hundreds or thousands of wildfires (also called forest fires). Wildfires can affect your health and safety in many ways: the smoke from wildfires can affect the quality of the air, a power outage may spoil your food or you may have to evacuate if a wildfire is close to your home. Preparing in advance for wildfires can help you keep your family safe.

The Government of British Columbia BC Wildfire Service posts information on current wildfire activity. You can find information on fires that pose a significant safety risk, air quality, fire danger ratings and more.

Wildfire smoke is composed of many different air pollutants. For more information see BC Centre for Disease Control: Wildfire Smoke.

Emergency Preparedness

There are many things you can do to prepare before an emergency or disaster. During a wildfire, you will want to watch for symptoms and know where to find the latest information on wildfires in your area, including community evacuation orders. After a wildfire, you may experience issues such as poor air quality or contaminated water. For more information on emergency preparedness, visit, Canadian Red Cross: Be Ready-Emergency Preparedness and Recovery.

Before a Wildfire

During wildfire season roads may be closed, you may be cut off from certain supplies and services or your community may be evacuated. See the resources below about how to prepare for an emergency and stay safe in case there is an evacuation alert or order.

For emergency planning if you have specific health conditions, see:

For information about protecting your community from wildfire, visit: 

During a Wildfire

Wildfire smoke may or may not affect you. Each person’s response to the smoke depends on their age, health and exposure. Common symptoms include eye irritation, runny nose, sore throat, mild cough, phlegm production, wheezing or headaches. These symptoms may be managed without seeking medical attention.

If symptoms do not improve after taking action to reduce exposure, or they worsen, seek prompt medical attention. 

Find local information from health authorities on wildfires:

Evacuation Information

Emergency Info BC is active during partial and full-scale provincial emergencies and will share event information during emergencies. If you are under an evacuation order or affected by fire, please contact your local government to receive emergency support services. To find the Emergency Program Coordinator for your community visit the Civic Info BC Directory.

If there is a wildfire in or near your community, you may be evacuated to a safer area. Wildfires can impact evacuation routes. Visit DriveBC for the latest updates on driving conditions in your community.

Find information about wildfires in B.C., including where they are and what to do if you are evacuated, below:

Seniors may need special support in the event of an evacuation. See the resources below on getting prepared:

Health Care for Evacuees

Smoke particles can irritate the airways. If you have a history of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), other respiratory conditions or heart problems, you should monitor your symptoms. Sometimes smoky air can increase the risk of certain infections, such as COVID-19, for children, infants, the elderly, those who are pregnant, and those with chronic illnesses.

It is recommended to seek medical attention promptly if you do experience more severe symptoms such as shortness of breath, severe cough, chest pain or heart palpitations.

For non-emergency health information or advice, call 8-1-1 to speak with a health services navigator. The navigator will help you find the information you are looking for or connect you with a registered nurse, registered dietitian, qualified exercise professional or a pharmacist.

Prescription Medications

During a state of emergency, pharmacists can provide a drug without a prescription to ensure the health and safety of the public. For more information visit the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia – Accessing Medications You May Need During a State of Emergency. People who use rescue medications such as inhalers should carry them at all times during wildfire season. 

Walk-in Clinics

To find a walk-in clinic in your area, search the HealthLink BC Directory or call 8-1-1 to speak with a health services navigator. Health services navigators are available 24 hours a day, 7 days of the week, everyday of the year.

Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 can assess whether they need to be tested using the COVID-19 Self- Assessment Tool.

Air Quality

Staying Cool Indoors during Poor Air Quality

When the air quality in your area is poor, officials may recommend that you keep your windows closed. If your windows are closed and you do not have air conditioning (or it is not running), you will need to take special care to stay cool. If the air is smoky, and you find it is hard to breathe, seek medical attention right away.

Make sure to stay up-to-date on the specific recommendations for your area. Visit BC Air Quality: Advisories for current information. 

Poor air quality can be harmful to your health, especially for those with heart and lung conditions, older adults and children. For more information about air quality, including current air quality advisories, see:

For air quality information from your health authority, click on the links below:

Heat and Air Quality

Heat and air pollution affect your body in different ways, and some people are susceptible to the effects of both. Cooler, cleaner indoor air is the best way to protect yourself from heat and air pollution. Heat poses a bigger risk than smoke for most people, so prioritize staying cool. For more information on how to stay cool indoors, see our Beat the Heat health feature.

Dealing with Stress and Trauma

Disasters, such as wildfires, can impact your emotional health as much as your physical health. Learn what you can do to recognize signs of stress or trauma in yourself and your family.

After a Wildfire

Returning Home

When your local or First Nations government has declared it is safe for you to return home, there are steps you can take to make the transition easier and safer. Learn more at Government of British Columbia: Recover after a wildfire.

Food Safety and Water Quality

If there is a wildfire in your area, the power might go out in your community. Fire retardants may be used in or near your community to reduce the size of the fires and lessen their impact. Find out how to protect water supplies and food affected by fire retardants or power outages.

Useful Websites

BC Centre for Disease Control

The BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) is an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority. They provide provincial and national leadership in public health through surveillance, detection, prevention and consultation.

Information about wildfire smoke, and its health impacts, including information on how to prepare for wildfire season can be found on:

BC Government: Environment and Sustainability

The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Sustainability provides information on caring for our environment which includes keeping our air and water supply fresh, clean and healthy. To learn more about the state of the air around us visit Government of British Columbia: Air Quality Data.

Health Canada

Health Canada is the federal government department that is responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health. Learn more about indoor and outdoor air quality, health effects of air pollution, wildfire smoke and your health see Government of Canada: Air quality and health.