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Public Health England general advice regarding smoke

Residents in areas affected by smoke should stay indoors, keep their doors and windows closed, and tune in to the local radio station for advice and information. Motorists who have to travel through the smoke should keep windows closed and keep their air vents closed. If people need to be outdoors, they are advised to avoid areas affected by any smoke or ash, or to limit the time that they spend in them.

Smoke can irritate air passages, the skin and the eyes leading to coughing and wheezing, breathlessness and chest pain. It can also worsen existing problems such as asthma and people with asthma should carry their inhaler with them at all times. Anyone concerned about their symptoms should contact their GP or NHS111.

Key is the need to:

  • Avoid smoky areas
  • If there is visible smoke stay indoors, keep your doors and windows closed, and due to the current warm weather conditions:
    • draw curtains to limit direct sunlight heating-up internal surfaces
    • use fans to re-circulate air within the house to help keep cool
    • wear lighter clothing
    • keep hydrated with cool drinks
    • limit activities that might contribute to emissions within the home such as cooking
    • set any air conditioning (preferably fitted with a HEPA filter) to re-circulate mode. Limit the time you spend outdoors and avoid strenuous physical activity.
  • If driving in smoky areas keep, your windows wound up and switch air conditioning systems to recycle or re-circulate to prevent drawing in outside air.
  • Individuals with heart or lung diseases such as asthma should ensure they have access to their medication and seek medical advice if their symptoms worsen.

Concerns about odour (smell)

The human nose is very sensitive to odours, and many substances that are perceived as odorous are usually present at levels below which there is a direct toxicological effect.

Odours can cause nuisance amongst the population possibly leading to stress and anxiety. Some people may experience symptoms such as nausea, headaches or dizziness, as a reaction to odours even when the substances that cause those smells are themselves not harmful to health. It cannot be excluded that some symptoms presented may be subjective i.e. as a result of an individual's reaction to particular odours.

Advice on clean-up and recovery from a fire

Public Health England would not expect there to be a significant risk from short-term contact with ash and soot. Because of its size it is unlikely that it could be inhaled if disturbed and so would be unlikely to cause any respiratory symptoms. It can safely be washed off cars and outdoor furniture.

Smoke alarms

A smoke alarm is a device that detects smoke at the earliest signs of fire and sounds a piercing alarm to alert you. A number of people are killed or seriously injured in fires that occur whilst they are asleep. The fitting of a smoke alarm could prevent many of these tragic instances.

Tips for use of smoke alarms:

  • fit one on every floor of your house
  • place within easy hearing distance
  • don't fit alarms in kitchens or bathrooms as they can be easily triggered by steam or smoke from cooking.

Smoke alarms cost as little as £5 and are available in a wide range of shops. There are different types of alarm such as alarms that detect different types of fire and systems for the hard of hearing and deaf which consists of a vibrating pad and strobe light. The pad can be placed under a pillow and when the alarm sounds the pad and light will set off.

Your local Fire Service is happy to visit your home to conduct a free fire risk survey and fit smoke alarms into your home.

Cooking fires

50% of all house fires start in the kitchen, below are some tips for cooking safely.

  • never leave hot pans unattended, especially chip pans and only fill chip pans 1/3 full of oil
  • keep the oven, toaster, grill and hob clean, fires can often be started by a build up of grease, fat and crumbs
  • ensure saucepan handles don't stick out from the hob
  • only tackle a pan fire if it's in its early stages and you're completely sure you can put it out and stay safe. If safe, turn off the heat
  • wring out a damp cloth and cover the flaming pan. Never throw water over the pan
  • do not place oven gloves, tea towels etc. near direct heat
  • ensure burner is lit if using a gas cooker and ensure all controls are switched off after cooking.

Smoking-related fires

  • Fires caused by cigarettes kill more people than any other cause of fire
  • Don't smoke in bed. It's too easy to fall asleep and set bedding on fire
  • Always use proper ashtrays, and keep matches and lighters out of reach of children.

How to escape a fire

  • Your best route in case of fire is the normal way in and out of your home, but have an alternate way planned in case of it being blocked
  • Keep all escape routes clear and always include any children, disabled and the elderly and make sure everyone is present at time of escape
  • Make sure everyone in the house is aware of where door and window keys are.

If the escape route is blocked it may be safer to stay in your home and protect yourself until the fire brigade arrives and effects a rescue.