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The City of New Orleans

Plan for Emergencies


When wildfires burn near you, smoke can reach your community. Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particles from burning trees and plants, buildings, and other material. Wildfire smoke can make anyone sick, but people with asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), or heart disease, or who are pregnant and children and responders are especially at risk.

When wildfires create smoky conditions, it’s important for everyone to reduce their exposure to smoke

Breathing in smoke can affect you right away, causing:

  • Coughing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Asthma attacks
  • Stinging eyes
  • Scratchy throat
  • Runny nose
  • Irritated sinuses
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Chest pain
  • Fast heartbeat

Tips to Protect Yourself from Smoke:

Wildfire smoke irritates your eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. It can make it hard to breathe and make you cough or wheeze. Children and people with asthmaCOPD, heart disease, or who are pregnant need to be especially careful about breathing wildfire smoke. Pay attention to air quality reports. Follow instructions about exercise and going outside for “sensitive individuals.”

Keep smoke outside.

  • Choose a room you can close off from outside air.
  • Set up a portable air cleaner or a filter to keep the air in this room clean even when it’s smoky in the rest of the building and outdoors. If you use a do-it-yourself box fan filtration unit, never leave it unattended.

Reduce exposure outdoors.

  • Check your air quality: Smoke levels change a lot during the day, so wait until air quality is better before you are active outdoors.
  • Choose a mask that will help protect you from smoke: It is important to know that cloth masks will NOT protect you from wildfire smoke. N95 respirator masks can provide protection from wildifre smoke.
  • Take it easier: Reduce how much smoke you inhale.  If it looks or smells smoky outside, avoid strenuous activities such as mowing the lawn or going for a run.
  • Reschedule outdoor work tasks: Wait until air quality improves to do outdoor work tasks and activities. If outdoor tasks and activities cannot be rescheduled and must be conducted when air quality is poor, it is recommended that individuals reduce smoke inhalation by:
    • Limiting the time spent outdoors by only performing essential activities.
    • Taking frequent breaks indoors in places where the air is clean, especially during periods with high outdoor levels of wildfire smoke.
    • If you must work outdoors, wear a N95 respirator mask.

Reduce Exposure Indoors

  • If you have central air, run your HVAC system: Use high efficiency filters (rated MERV-13 or higher) to capture fine particles from smoke.
    • Replace the filters frequently.
    • Set the system to "recirculate" mode and "on" rather than "auto."
    • If your system has a fresh air intake, close the outdoor intake damper.
  • Use a portable air cleaner: If you have access to one, use a portable air cleaner in one or more rooms. Portable air cleaners work best when run continuously with doors and windows closed.
    • If you can't get a portable air cleaner, you can also use a DIY Air Cleaner to reduce wildfire smoke indoors. Learn more about DIY Air Cleaners.
  • Avoid activities that create pollution: Avoid using candles, gas, propane, wood-burning stoves, fireplaces, or aerosol sprays and don’t fry or broil meat, smoke tobacco products, or vacuum.

Tips for Pregnant Women & Children

  • Follow your healthcare provider’s advice. Continue with your pre-natal care. Update your delivery plan if you need to evacuate.
  • Know the signs of labor and early labor. If you have the signs, call your healthcare provider or 9-1-1, or go to the hospital right away if it is safe to travel.
  • Check for school closings.
  • Children must stay inside as much as possible. Keep windows and doors closed and turn on an HVAC system or use a portable air filtration unit.
    • If your child has severe trouble breathing, is very sleepy, or will not eat or drink, reduce their exposure to smoke and get medical help right away.
  • Children ages 2 years and older can wear respirators and masks. However, NIOSH Approved respirators do not come in suitable sizes for very young children.
    • Remember that dust masks, surgical masks, bandanas, and breathing through a wet cloth will not protect your child from smoke.
    • Think about evacuating if your child has trouble breathing or other symptoms that do not get better.

Tips for Pet Owners

Even if the fire danger is not imminent, high levels of smoke may force you to stay indoors for a long time or even to evacuate. Reduce your pet’s exposure to smoke as you would reduce your own.

  • Know the signs. If your animals have 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
  • Keep pets indoors as much as yhou can, with doors and windows closed. Bring outdoor pets into a room with good ventilation, like a utility room, garage, or bathroom. Move potentially dangerous products, such as pesticides, out of the reach of pets.
  • Smoke is especially tough on your pet birds. Keep them inside hen smoke is present.
  • Spend less time outdoors and limit physical activities when it is smoky. For example, when it’s smoky, it’s not a good time for you and your pet to go for a run. Let dogs and cats outside only for brief bathroom breaks if air quality alerts are in effect.
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