Wildfire smoke

A smokey landscape during the 2017 British Columbia wildfires.

Wildfire smoke is a form of air pollution that can affect your health.

Why smoke is harmful

Smoke contains very small particles of pollution – known as particulate matter or PM – that travel deep into your lungs when you inhale. These particles can cause irritation and inflammation. Of all the pollutants in wildfire smoke, particulate matter poses the greatest risk to health.  Learn more about the composition of wildfire smoke from this BCCDC fact sheet.

Most symptoms can be managed without medical attention:

  • Sore throat
  • Eye irritation
  • Runny nose
  • Mild cough
  • Phlegm production
  • Wheezy breathing
  • Headaches

Some people may experience more severe symptoms and should seek prompt medical attention. Call HealthLink BC (8-1-1), talk to your primary care physician or visit a walk-in clinic if you're experiencing:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe cough
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations

People at higher risk

Different people respond differently to smoke, and some people are at higher risk of experiencing health effects. Reducing exposure to wildfire smoke is especially important for the following groups of people:

  • People with pre-existing chronic conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, and diabetes
  • People who are pregnant
  • Infants and small children
  • Elderly
  • People who have been diagnosed with a respiratory infection

Other people can be affected by wildfire smoke too. Everyone responds differently, so listen to your body and reduce your exposure if the smoke is affecting you. 


Read about the health effects of wildfire smoke and ways to reduce exposure.

Download the wildfire smoke poster

Protect yourself from wildfire smoke

The best way to protect against the potentially harmful effects of wildfire smoke is reduce your exposure to smoke and seek cleaner air:

Find more information on the health effects of wildfire smoke, how to prepare for the season and the use of portable air cleaners for wildfire smoke on the BCCDC website.

BCCDC - Wildfire smoke

The Air Quality Health Index tool

The Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) is a tool designed to help people understand how air quality can affect their health, and how they can protect themselves when air quality is poor. The index is based on measurements of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), ground-level ozone (O3), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and is reported across BC. Learn more about how the index is calculated from this BCCDC Fact Sheet

Air quality monitoring data

PM2.5 concentrations are the best air quality measure of wildfire smoke and are reported across a number of regulatory grade sensors in BC (data map).

PM2.5 data from lower-cost air quality monitors (less reliable but still good) can be found in areas where regulatory sensors may not be available (data map).

Air quality advisories and bulletins

Watch for these air quality notifications issued in the VCH region:

Within Metro Vancouver

An air quality advisory is issued by Metro Vancouver when air quality over a large portion of Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley Regional District temporarily deteriorates, or is expected to deteriorate soon. 

Outside of Metro Vancouver

The Smoky Skies Bulletin is issued by BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy when areas of the province are being impacted or have reasonable potential to be impacted by wildfire smoke within 24 to 48 hours.

Learn more about the types of advisories that are issued when the air gets smoky, how to know if there is smoke in the air, and how to stay up to date on the Metro Vancouver website.

Metro Vancouver - Wildfire Smoke and Air Quality 

BCCDC Wildfire Smoke Website

Find more information on the health effects of wildfire smoke, how to prepare for the season and ways to protect health from wildfire smoke on the BCCDC website.

Wildfire smoke fact sheets include:


BCCDC - Wildfire Smoke Webpage 


    • Summer heat, wildfire smoke and health: Recommended actions for owners and managers of rental and strata housing

      Vancouver Coastal Health

    • Schools and Wildfire Smoke

      Vancouver Coastal Health & Fraser Health

    • Childcare facilities and wildfire smoke

      Vancouver Coastal Health

    • Community care facilities and wildfire smoke

      Vancouver Coastal Health

    • Pool Operators on Extreme Heat and Smoke

      Fraser Health

    • Wildfires Fact Sheet: Composition of Wildfire Smoke


    • Wildfire smoke poster

    • Outdoor Gatherings Guidance

      Vancouver Coastal Health