Health Department Issues Air Quality Advisory for Smoke From Wildfires

Published on May 13, 2024

The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department (LLCHD) today issued an air quality advisory due to smoke from wildfires in western Canada. Smoke from these fires may reach levels that are unhealthy for children, older adults and those with asthma, lung disease, and other respiratory or heart conditions. 

“Smoke from these fires has affected areas of Minnesota, Iowa, and the Dakotas through much of the day on Monday, and wind conditions are forecast to carry that smoke south and east into the Lancaster County area,” said Gary Bergstrom, Air Quality Program Supervisor with LLCHD. “Depending on the weather conditions, smoke in the air may reach levels that are unhealthy for certain groups. The highest potential for smoke impacts is during the evening hours Monday night through Tuesday morning.” 

Breathing smoke can cause asthma attacks, worsen chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and cause chest pain in some people with heart disease, Bergstrom said. 

When the Air Quality Index (AQI) is in the orange category, that means the air quality is unhealthy for individuals with higher sensitivity to air pollution.

People at risk should reduce strenuous physical activity when outdoors, take plenty of breaks and watch for symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, or chest pain. Those who experience these symptoms should contact a medical care provider. People with asthma should follow their asthma action plans and have quick relief medicine readily available.

When the AQI is in the red category or worse, the air quality is unhealthy for everyone, and all residents should follow the guidance provided above.

Those at risk can further protect their health when air quality is poor by staying indoors, keeping windows and doors closed, using a HEPA filter, and using the recirculate setting when using a vehicle’s heater or air conditioner.  

Smoke levels may fluctuate due to wind and weather conditions and varying smoke production by the fires. Residents are encouraged to visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Fire and Smoke Map ( for information on current air quality conditions.

The EPA also provides the AirNow and SmokeSense smart phone applications to help people stay informed of the AQI in their area. These tools also provide guidance on what precautions people should take when heading outdoors.

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