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Keeping you and your pets safe from wildfire smoke

A fire burns in a forest full of green trees with white and gray smoking filling the top left of the photo.
Flick/NPS Climate Change Response

The Treasure Valley has not seen a whole lot of smoke so far this year, but Idaho does have its fair share of fires burning right now.

While wildfire smoke affects everyone, children and people with asthma, COPD, heart disease and those who are pregnant need to be extremely careful about breathing in wildfire smoke.

Dark smoke rises above a line of trees with mountains visible on the right side of the picture.
From air quality concerns to evacuations, wildfires impact pretty much everyone. We've rounded up some resources to make sure you're prepared as we head into Idaho's wildfire season.

Particulate Matter

Wildfire smoke is a mixture of gaseous pollutants (like carbon monoxide), hazardous air pollutants, water vapor and particle pollution, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Particle pollution is also called particulate matter and is a general term for the mixture of solid and liquid droplets in the air.

Wildfires are a main source of particulate matter and the particles can come in a variety of sizes.

 A graphic showing a hair follicle compared to the size of other particles, including sand, dust, and organic compounds.
United States Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA says fine particles (PM 2.5) are a main pollutant from wildfire smoke, making up about 90% of the total particle mass. These fine particles are a greater health concern as they can get deeper into the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

About the Air Quality Index

The Air Quality Index (AQI) is the EPA's index for reporting air quality. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and health concern.

The AQI is divided into six categories and each category corresponds to a different level of health concern.


You can also check the AirNow fire and smoke map, which shows fires burning throughout North America and the air quality.

Protecting yourself from smoke both inside and outside

Choose a room inside your home that you can close off from outside air, like a bedroom or office. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says to set up a portable air cleaner or a filter to keep the air in the selected room clean, even when it's smoky in the rest of the home or building.

If you don't have a portable air cleaner, you can create a DIY box fan filtration unit but do not leave it unattended.

When it's smoky outside, you'll want to avoid activities that increase indoor pollution. This includes burning candles, fireplaces and gas stoves. Vacuuming can also stir up particles inside your home and smoking puts more pollution in the air.

Running an air conditioner is encouraged, but keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean. If you don't have an air conditioner and it's too warm to stay inside, find a designated shelter in your city, like a library.

If you have to go outside in the smoke, don't rely on dust masks for protection. The paper masks and fabric masks you may have lying around the house will not protect your lungs from the small particles found in wildfire smoke. Masks like N95s or P100 respirators can help protect your lungs from smoke or ash when worn correctly.

Protecting your pets from wildfire smoke

Like humans, pets can also be affected by wildfire smoke. When smoke is present, keep your pets inside as much as you can with doors and windows closed. If you have an outdoor pet, bring them into a room with good ventilation, like a garage or utility room, and keep bathroom trips outside brief.

If you see your pet having any of these signs, call your veterinarian:

  • Coughing or gagging
  • Red or watery eyes, nasal discharge, inflammation of throat or mouth or reluctance to eat hard foods
  • Trouble breathing, including open-mouth breathing, more noise when breathing or fast breathing
  • Fatigue or weakness, disorientation, uneven gait, stumbling
  • Reduced appetite or thirst

When smoke is present, keep your pets inside as much as you can with doors and windows closed. If you have an outdoor pet, bring them into a room with good ventilation, like a garage or utility room, and keep bathroom trips outside brief.

Hello, I’m Katie and I’m a social media enthusiast here at Boise State Public Radio.

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