Skip to content
Wildfires and Us: What To Do

Wildfires and Us: What To Do

By Dr. Stuart Garber, DC

Image: BBC – Wildfires in California have quickly spread to threaten home and vehicles (Credit: Reuters)

When only two years ago I first wrote about wildfires and their effects on our bodies, mostly on our respiratory systems, wildfires as a phenomenon were still just that: a phenomenon. Now wildfires have become, like so many other changes wrought by the warming of the earth, not only commonplace but expected. And while they may not be increasing in number (oddly enough, the number of wildfires hasn’t increased all that dramatically since the National Interagency Fire Center began tracking them in 1983—almost 13,000 fewer in 2023 in the U.S. than in 2022), they are increasing in intensity—and in their effects on our bodies as much as our lifestyles.

FORBES, August 18, 2023: Klamath, CA: Smoke from area wildfires tint a reflection at Iron Gate Dam in Klamath, California. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

As reported last month by environmental justice writer Monica Sanders in Forbes, “Experts predict a more intense 2024 wildfire season than usual for the United States.” And that doesn’t even include the fires raging up in Canada. Fires that are just as potentially harmful as those in the U.S. That’s because fires burning thousands of miles away can, because of wind patterns, can be just as toxic as those we can see with the naked eye.

Image: Forbes – Klamath, CA - August 18, 2023: Smoke from area wildfires tint a reflection at Iron Gate Dam in Klamath, California. (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Understandably, people in the thick of it know—without being told—that they’re breathing in toxic air. They can see it, they can smell it, they can taste it. But for those of us far removed from the actual site of a wildfire, out of sight does not equal out of mind—worse, it does not at all mean that it’s out of your body. Which is why the wildfires furthest away from where we are can be almost more dangerous than those we can see on the horizon. As of this past May, for example, smoke and the particles in that smoke from the 100 active wildfires burning at the time in Canada (and still burning as of today), caused officials in Minnesota and Michigan to issue air quality alerts and that toxic smoke didn’t stop there—it drifted as far east as New York and Georgia.

And “wildfire” as a term is fast becoming something of a misnomer. Yes, many if not most of these fires begin or remain contained within forests and wildlands. But many if not most of these same “wild” fires spread into areas where people live and work (mostly because people are moving and building closer and closer to wildland areas). In other words, it’s not just trees and brush that are burning, it’s people’s homes, vehicles, office buildings, warehouses and other manmade things, all of which contain chemicals that can be bad enough when not aflame (think “sick building syndrome”) but are exacerbated when ignited.

As I’d written in 2022, Some of the compounds that cause additional risks to humans include synthetic building materials from houses and other structures taken by the flames. . . . [and] Building materials give off a range of different types of gas, as well as tiny components of 2.5 microns or less. These are known as particulate matter or PM 2.5, and when people breathe them in, they can cause real harm to the lungs and other organs.”

Worse, these tiny nanoparticles – often more than 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair – can penetrate the lung membranes when breathed in, potentially damaging the respiratory system and working their way into the bloodstream. And this toxic smoke affects animals as much as humans–and probably even more so, since dogs and especially equines spend much (if not all) of their time outside.

Wildfire smoke often contains other gases, such as volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. Combined with the PM 2.5, these materials are easily inhaled into the lungs, which can lead to coughing, shortness of breath and worsen asthma, but over the long term they can also increase inflammation and lead to a greater risk of heart attack and stroke. And according to a BBC report, “One study found that particulate matter from wildfire smoke was especially harmful to a type of immune cell called macrophages in the lungs. It showed that wildfire particulates were four times more toxic to these immune cells than particulate matter from other air pollution.”

BBC: Firefighters have been fighting to defend homes after thousands of lightning strikes started forest fires in California (Credit: Reuters)

Image: BBC – Firefighters have been fighting to defend homes after thousands of lightning strikes started forest fires in California (Credit: Reuters)

Getting back to the danger of what we cannot see, the BBC reported: “the toxicity of these smoke particles also appears to increase the further they get from the site of a fire. As they are carried in the wind, the particles undergo chemical reactions in the air that cause them to “age” in a process known as oxidation. This converts the particles into highly reactive compounds that have an even greater capacity to damage cells and tissue than when they were first produced.”

According to Athanasios Nenes, an atmospheric chemist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne and adjunct professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, who led the study on the toxicity of these particles, “Even if someone is far away from a fire source, they may still experience adverse health outcomes from the inhalation of highly diluted and oxidized smoke. . . . the oxidative potential of wildfire smoke can be up to four times higher when smoke has been atmospherically processed.”

So how to mitigate the effects of all these wildfires?

First of all, make it a habit to see what the day’s Air Quality Index (AQI) is in your area. Although most popularly applied to athletic events (as to whether or not athletes should participate in rigorous aerobic activities, depending on that day’s AQI), this index is a helpful basic guide on what the air quality is in your neck of the so-called woods. If it’s over 100, consider not doing anything particularly rigorous outdoors; if it’s over 150, monitor yourself very closely (check your breathing, pay attention to your skin and your eyes—are they dry, itchy?); and if it’s 200 or above, don’t go outside at all.

AQI Basics for Ozone and Particle Pollution from

Graph: AQI Basics for Ozone and Particle Pollution,

If you’re determined to work out, exercise indoors with a well-ventilated room or a gym that has air-conditioning. If you do find yourself outdoors, stay clear of roads and highways where there’s already a higher level of other pollutants in the air—try not to compound those pollutants with wildfire contaminants. When you’re in your car, keep the windows closed and the AC on recycle—so you’re not, again, bringing in exhaust and other pollutants along with whatever’s part of the wildfire mix. Drink plenty of water. And if you have any type of respiratory issues, keep an inhalant at hand.

And perhaps the most obvious: wear a mask. A N95 is still the best, but any mask is helpful.

As I wrote previously, A number of vitamins and minerals can help you fight the effects of air pollution, particularly Vitamins C and E, Beta carotene and Omega-3s. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that destroys free radicals.” 

In my work treating patients while still in California, in response to the growing health threat of wildfires, I prescribed various remedies which proved very effective both therapeutically and prophylactically. Various extracts from plants such as Juniper and Black Current, Hornbeam and Filbert, specific combinations of minerals as found in rocks such as Stibnite and Galena and, equally important, certain homeopathic sarcodes. As a result of the success using these remedies, I went on to combine them into synergistic formulas for patients suffering from increased asthma and respiratory distress.

 Email Dr. Garber for more information.

Cart 0

Your cart is currently empty.

Start Shopping