With 8,000 acres of the La Sal Mountains ablaze, smoke inhalation has become a concern for Moab residents and visitors alike.

“We’ve had people come in complaining of these symptoms and thinking they have COVID-19, but smoke causes all of these symptoms,” said Eric Anderson, the emergency preparedness planner at the Southeast Utah Health Department. Such symptoms include coughing, wheezing, trouble breathing, asthma attacks, stinging eyes, scratchy throat, runny nose, irritated sinuses, headaches, exhaustion, chest pain and rapid heart rate. “It’s a quick onset and can affect people right away,” he continued.

The health department recommends staying indoors as much as possible as smoke continues to spread and checking that air conditioning filters are clean. Those who cannot prevent smoke from entering their homes should move to a different location. Anderson noted that pets can also experience negative effects from inhaling wildfire smoke.

“Some people are more susceptible to wildfire smoke than others,” said Anderson. Those who suffer from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease are more susceptible to wildfire smoke symptoms, as are pregnant women and children.

The air quality in Moab has improved in recent days with more of the smoke from the Pack Creek Fire directed towards Colorado. “Most areas in Moab are fine, but I would encourage people to reduce strenuous activity outside,” Anderson said. “When you’re exercising, you breathe in a lot more air than when you’re resting, and a higher breathing rate brings in more smoke deep into the lungs.” Anderson also noted that most people breathe through their mouths when exercising, rather than their nose, which filters air. As a result, exercising outside when heavy smoke is present can exacerbate symptoms.

Anderson recommended that Moab residents who live closer to the Pack Creek Fire assemble a 72-hour kit or go-bag in case of emergency with access to food, clothing and important documents. “You need to be able to grab everything quickly, because wildfires move extremely fast,” he said. Additionally, Anderson said that N-95 masks can filter out smoke, though regular cloth masks would not make much of a difference.

“All of southern Utah is covered in smoke, and it’s important to take this seriously,” Anderson said. “Limit outdoor time and be as careful as possible.”