The Changing Nature of Wildfires: Impacts on the Health of the Public

Clin Chest Med. 2020 Dec;41(4):771-776. doi: 10.1016/j.ccm.2020.08.006.


Catastrophic wildfires are increasing around the globe as climate change continues to progress. Another risk factor for large wildfires in the western United States is a legacy of fire suppression that has allowed overgrowth of underbrush and small trees in forests where periodic lightning-sparked wildfires are part of the natural ecosystem. Wildfire smoke contains CO2, CO, NOx, particulate matter, complex hydrocarbons (including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), and irritant gases, including many of the same toxic and carcinogenic substances as cigarette smoke. The public need clear and consistent messaging to understand that wildland fire smoke poses a health risk.

Keywords: Particulate matter; Public health; Smoke; Wildfire.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Public Health / standards*
  • Wildfires / statistics & numerical data*