State Agencies Provide Guidance as Devastating Wildfires Impact Residents

Tuesday, November 29, 2016 | 11:33am

Nashville – The Tennessee Department of Health, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation are urging residents of east Tennessee areas affected by devastating wildfires to protect themselves and their families from smoke. While inhaling smoke may adversely affect anyone, those at greatest risk include the elderly, young children, pregnant women and those with existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, or those with heart disease.

Smoke from wildfires that caused widespread damage in east Tennessee may contain particles that can create a range of impacts to human health, from minor irritation of the eyes to more serious breathing problems that increase the risk of heart attacks and other threats to health. Officials with TDH, TEMA and TDEC urged people who do not need to be in the affected areas to stay away and for those who must be there to take appropriate cautions to protect their health.

“TDEC staff members are continuously monitoring air quality conditions across the state to better understand the potential impacts the wildfires may have on the air we breathe,” said TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau. “Citizens, especially sensitive populations, need to know what they can do to mitigate health hazards related to poor air quality.”

Sevier County residents can indicate their status with the American Red Cross at the organization’s Safe and Well website:  Residents of affected area can also use the Facebook Safety Check to indicate their status:

Evidence of potentially harmful exposure to smoke may include difficulty breathing, light headedness, dizziness, chest pain and other symptoms. TDH recommends the following for personal protection:

  • If you have asthma or any other lung disease, consult your healthcare provider about medicines you are taking and any health effect you believe is associated with smoke.
  • Limit outdoor activities when smoke is smelled or seen.
  • Keep clean air filters in your home heating/cooling system and keep windows and doors closed as much as possible.
  • Consider using portable air filters to help reduce indoor air particle levels. Those with High Efficiency Particulate Air, HEPA, filters can be effective in removing irritants such as wildfire smoke.
  • Most dust masks commonly found at hardware stores will not protect your lungs from the small particulates found in smoke.  Those considering the use of stronger N-95 masks that can filter smoke particulates should know these can significantly increase the work of breathing, possibly creating increased problems for those with impaired lung function or other respiratory conditions. 
  • Avoid use of fireplaces, candles or gas stoves, and exposure to tobacco smoke inside your home.
  • Vacuuming in your home may stir up particulates in your home or business; avoid use of those without HEPA filters.

For more information on smoke-related risks from wildfires, visit the American Lung Association website:

Check air quality information at: or