Are Spain’s wildfires a risk to people's health?

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Are Spain’s wildfires a risk to people's health?
A wildfire burning on the Canary Island of Tenerife. Photo: CESAR MANSO / AFP

Dozens of wildfires are currently destroying thousands of hectares of forest and land across Spain, but what impact can they have on your health if you happen to live in a province which is dealing with forest fires?


Last year (2022), may have been a record-breaking year for the number of forest fires in one year, but there have been several notable wildfires this year too. 

One of the worst this summer has been on the Canary Island of Tenerife, which is still raging. So far the blaze, which has a perimeter of 70 kilometres (43 miles), has burned through 8,400 hectares (20,800 acres), or just over four percent of Tenerife's overall surface area, forcing more than 12,000 people to flee their homes.

As well as wreaking havoc across the local landscapes, wildfires can be particularly damaging to our health too. 

Experts say that even more dangerous than getting burned by the fires themselves, is breathing in the smoke from them. This is in fact the leading cause of death during a fire.

This means even if you’re not actually that near the fire, the smoke in the air can still affect you.

According to the experts, pollutants and smoke particles from wildfires can travel thousands of miles away, so even if you’re in the next town, you may be at some risk.

READ ALSO: What to do and what to avoid if you witness a forest fire in Spain

What are the effects of smoke inhalation?

If a forest fire is particularly big and rages for a long time, then the damage from smoke inhalation can be particularly bad.

Particles from fires are very small – one-third the diameter of your hair, according to the American Lung Association, and can therefore easily get lodged deep in your lungs.

Fumes from these fires can cause coughs, irritated eyes, an itchy nose and a scratchy throat. It can also be dangerous for those who are vulnerable and suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma.

Particle pollution can also trigger heart attacks and strokes.


Children, pregnant women and the elderly are particularly vulnerable when exposed to smoke. It has been found that these people are more likely to get coughs, colds and bronchitis after breathing in fumes from fires.

According to Cristina Martínez, an expert from the Spanish Society of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery, smoke is not only dangerous because of the particles it emits, but also because it can raise temperatures further. Smoke alone can cause burns inside your respiratory system, such as in your throat and your lungs.

Remember that if you have inhaled a lot of smoke, you should get checked out by a doctor, even if you feel fine, your insides might not be.


How can I minimise the damage to my health?

Chief fire officer for Madrid Víctor Prieto says that to eliminate these health risks, you should listen to the authorities and stay inside if it’s safe to do so. He also encourages people to close all doors and windows to make sure the smog doesn’t get inside the house.

If you do have to go outside, it’s important to make sure your nose and mouth are covered with a mask, so the air is filtered before you breathe it.

Remember to also always call the emergency services if you spot a forest fire. Even if it’s small, it can quickly get out of control.


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