High temperatures, strong winds, and dry vegetation - all favorable conditions for wildfires - will increase with climate change. As California's climate changes, wildfires are becoming more frequent and severe. Health impacts include death and injury from burns or smoke inhalation, as well as the traumatic stress of experiencing such a disaster.
California's 2018 wildfire season was the deadliest on record. Nearly 2 million acres were burned and over 100 deaths were reported. Over 100,000 Californians were displaced from their homes. Many areas outside of the fire zones saw dramatic spikes in air pollution, forcing school closures in some communities.
How does climate change affect wildfires?
Climate change will create favorable conditions for wildfires in California, including:
- High temperatures
- Strong winds
- Dry vegetation
- Parched soils (including a two-thirds reduction in snowpack by 2100)
These conditions increase the frequency and intensity of California wildfires. As suburban areas continue to encroach on wild lands, additional communities in California are at risk from wildfires.
How do wildfires impact health?
Wildfires have immediate and long-lasting effects on health.
Burns and smoke inhalation
Residents in the fire's path, as well as first responders and emergency workers, risk injury from burns and smoke inhalation, which can be severe and even fatal.
Eye and respiratory illness
Wildfire smoke increases the risk for eye and respiratory illness, and this risk may continue after the smoke subsides because of injury to eye and lung tissues.
Wildfires have a significant impact on our health even after the fires are put out. A fire has a lasting impact on mental health from the traumatic stress of experiencing the loss of a community, home, or loved ones during a wildfire. These disasters have a long recovery time.