Forest Fires

Wood smoke from forest fires can be a concern in Nova Scotia, especially for people with breathing problems and lung disease. The Lung Association of Nova Scotia urges those with lung disease, such as asthma and COPD, to monitor their breathing and limit exposure to smoke from forest fires. If you experience breathing problems or flare-ups, refer to your written action plan or call your health care provider.

How does wood smoke from a forest fire affect my health?

If you do not have lung disease or breathing problems, wood smoke can:

  • irritate eyes, lungs, throat and sinuses
  • trigger headaches and allergies
  • reduce lung function, especially in children
  • increase the risk of heart attacks

If you have lung disease or breathing problems, wood smoke can cause all of the above symptoms to occur sooner and it can also:

  • trigger asthma attacks
  • worsen COPD symptoms
  • worsen pneumonia
  • increase cough
  • cause chest discomfort
  • cause wheezing and shortness of breath


What can I do to protect my lungs from wood smoke?

  • Remain indoors.
  • Keep doors and windows shut.
  • Use air conditioners on the recirculation setting so outside air will not be moved inside.
  • Take extra precaution with children, who are more susceptible to smoke because their breathing systems are still developing
  • Extra precaution should also be taken during forest fire season for older adults who are more likely to have heart or lung disease
  • Keep your windows and vents closed while driving. Only use air conditioning in the "recirculate" setting.
  • Pay attention to the Air Quality Health Index

People with lung disease and breathing problems should take extra precautions:

  • Ensure your lung disease is well managed, with a written action plan from your health care provider. If you do not have a written action plan, ask your health care provider for one.
  • Follow your written action plan, even when you’re not experiencing symptoms.
  • Talk to your health care provider ahead of the forest fire season about what to do before there is a problem.
  • Do not make any changes to your home oxygen. Call your doctor if you have questions or concerns.
  • Do not hesitate to take your rescue medication when you need it.

If symptoms worsen and are not relieved by your usual medications, call your health care provider or seek medical attention. Symptoms to watch for include: increased wheeze, cough, shortness of breath, and chest heaviness.

If you live in an area that may be evacuated due to fire, ensure you have an emergency kit packed with enough medications for 7 days.

For more information on how forest fires and wood smoke can affect your lung health please contact our Health Initiatives team:

Phone: (902) 443-8141
Toll-free in Nova Scotia: (888) 566-5864


Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) – A rating system that helps you understand what the air quality in your community means to your health.

Halifax Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Site – A resource from The Halifax Regional Fire Department regarding fire prevention

Nova Scotia Natural Resources - Fire prevention centre from the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources

Emergency Management Office – A check-list for preparing emergency and evacuation kits.



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Page Last Updated: 01/05/2017