In collaboration with Dr Peter Franklin, Senior Research Fellow (School of Population and Global Health, University of WA) and Department of Health (WA)

Prescribed (planned) burns take place right across Western Australia at different times of the year. In the Pilbara and Kimberley regions, prescribed burns are common from April to June. Elsewhere in the state, prescribed burning typically takes place from March through to November when vegetation contains more moisture. Local councils and private landowners also do burns during these periods. Sometimes these burns create smoke that can impact nearby urban centres.

Warmer months tend to bring a greater risk of bushfires as the vegetation is drier. This can be more challenging for people with asthma or other respiratory conditions to predict and plan around if smoke is a trigger for their condition.

How can you prepare for prescribed burning?

  1. Make an appointment to see your doctor to review your Asthma or COPD Action Plan – you should do this at least every 12 months, or more often if your symptoms have changed
  2. Know when the typical prescribed burn season takes place in your region – there is no fixed date for it to start or finish but knowing when they are likely to take place will help you plan ahead. You can check when government burns are planned for your region on the Department of Fire and Emergency Services and Parks and Wildlife websites
  3. Take your preventer medication as prescribed – it can take 6-8 weeks to provide maximum protection
  4. Revisit your device technique – are you using it correctly to maximise the benefit of your medication? Asthma WA’s Respiratory Health Team can help you, and it’s a free service, so why not?
  5. Make sure you have your reliever medication on you at all times and it has not expired

What can you do to minimise your exposure to smoke?

Smoke from bushfires and prescribed burns can trigger symptoms in people with asthma and other respiratory diseases that may be potentially life-threatening, so it is important to minimise your exposure to smoke as much as you can.

In many instances, smoke events can be short term (one or two days). On these occasions, the best advice is to minimise your physical activity and if you are indoors, keep your doors and windows closed to prevent smoke from entering your home as much as possible.

Ensure that you are following your Asthma or COPD Action Plan and take your medication as prescribed.

Keep your reliever with you in case you have a flare-up and restrict your outdoor activity to reduce your exposure. Weather conditions can change for the better or worse, so it is important to always keep an eye on what is happening outside and make sure you continually monitor your symptoms in case they change suddenly.

On occasions when smoke events are prolonged (more than three days), or particularly heavy, you may need to consider taking further action. This may include spending more time in a place where air filtration, and therefore the air quality, is better.  Public places such as a shopping centre, library or cinema are some options.

In the worst-case scenario, you may need to relocate to a different area that isn’t affected by smoke. It isn’t ideal, but it may be the safest course of action. However, you should only do that if it is safe to travel.

In any smoke event (short-term or prolonged), it is best to not use air-conditioners, such as evaporative systems, that draw air in from the outside. You can however use air conditioners that recirculate the air indoors if it is safe to do so. If a bushfire warning is issued for your area, always follow the advice of emergency services.

If you are in a smoke-prone area, you may wish to consider purchasing a portable air-cleaner. These have been shown to be reasonably effective at reducing indoor particle levels during fires. If you do purchase an air-cleaner, ensure it is the right size for the room that it will be used in.

You may also want to consider a face mask if you need to work outdoors or for those people who are particularly vulnerable and needing to go outside. We recommend consulting your doctor to discuss if this is a suitable option for you.

Please note that masks are not designed for long-term use however if deciding to wear a mask, there are specific masks designed to fit and reduce smoke inhalation. These are not the same as the masks often recommended as a preventative measure through the COVID-19 pandemic.

In periods of prolonged smoke haze, as occurred on the east coast in the 2019/2020 summer, smoke could become unavoidable in the home so you may need to get out of the house to reduce your exposure. A change of scenery may also be good for both your physical and mental health. As smoke may be more concentrated at different times of the day, depending on where you live and what the weather is doing, be careful when choosing when you will go outside. Before exiting, look out your window to check it is clearer.

Visit the Department of Health’s Healthy WA website to learn more about reducing smoke exposure during the bushfire season.

If you are unsure about any of the steps in your Asthma or COPD Action Plan, would like to review your device technique, book a free education session, or to discuss any other aspects of your respiratory condition, call Asthma WA on our Helpline Monday to Friday on 1800 ASTHMA (1800 278 462).

Have you joined the Asthma Alert community?

Asthma Alert is a pilot program funded by the Australian Commonwealth Government and supported by the WA State Emergency Management Committee.

The Asthma Alert Facebook Group aims to reduce the impact that smoke has on the lives of people who may be living with or caring for someone with asthma or other respiratory conditions, particularly where smoke is known to be a trigger for them.