Air Quality: Fire and Smoke

In NYC, smoke can come from a local building fire or can come from wildfires. Wildfire smoke comes from burning in dry, forested areas that then blows into NYC. Wildfire season runs April through October. It is difficult to predict:

  • When fires will occur
  • How big they will be
  • How much smoke they will generate
  • What direction the smoke will travel

Smoke from a fire contains a mix of gases, particles and chemicals. If you breathe in smoke, you may experience temporary health symptoms like eye, nose and throat irritation, trouble breathing, or chest pain. People with heart disease, asthma or other cardiovascular or respiratory conditions may be more vulnerable to health effects from smoke exposure.

Stay Safe

Follow these tips to stay safe:

  • Stay indoors with windows and doors closed if temperatures allow.
    • Use an air conditioner if the temperature outdoors is higher than 85 degrees.
      • Keep the fresh air intake closed to keep outdoor smoke from getting inside.
      • If possible, use a properly sized MERV-13 or higher-rated air filter to ensure your air conditioner (HVAC or window unit) is pumping clean air into your home.
    • If you do not have air conditioning, go to a cool indoor space like a library, grocery store or public building.
    • If you do not have air conditioning and can’t leave your home, do not close your windows when the temperature is hotter indoors than outside.

  • Use a portable air cleaner. Consider purchasing a non-ozone producing air cleaner to create a cleaner air room in the home. Make sure to choose a device that is the right size for the space in which it will be used. For information on do-it-yourself (DIY) air cleaners, see EPA’s page on DIY air cleaners for wildfire smoke. Check and clean the air filters regularly.

  • Limit activities that can worsen indoor air, like frying or broiling foods, smoking or vaping tobacco or cannabis products, vacuuming, burning candles or incense, or using a fireplace.

  • If you cannot stay indoors, consider wearing a well-fitting N95 or KN95 mask, take frequent breaks, and adjust your work or exercise schedule for when air conditions improve. See guidance for mask use (PDF)

  • Stay informed: Monitor NYC alerts and news reports, and check for the current Air Quality Index (AQI). Follow these recommendations based on the AQI (PDF)

Building managers, prepare your building for a bad air quality event. Visit the ASHRAE site and search: “Planning Framework for Protecting Commercial Building Occupants from Smoke During Wildfire Events.”

After a fire in your building or nearby, it could take several weeks for the smells to go away. During this time, it’s important to clean thoroughly and ventilate as much as possible.

Get Assistance

If there was a fire in your area or a wildfire smoke event and you are experiencing shortness of breath or chest pains, get medical attention immediately.

See your doctor if you have asthma, heart disease or another health condition that is getting worse. You do not need to see your doctor for minor irritation.

If there has been a fire in your neighborhood and you are concerned about the air quality, call 311.

Additional Resources

More Information