The annual average wildfire season in the Western U.S. is 105 days longer, burns six times as many acres, and has three times as many large fires (more than 1,000 acres) than it did in the 1970s. Climate change is expected to continue increasing temperatures and reduce moisture across the West, in part by causing a smaller and faster melting snowpack. These changes will further pre-condition Western landscapes for more, and more intense, wildfires.
Wildfires are dangerous to life, property, and ecosystems. Smoke inhalation and the intake of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from wildfires have been linked to a wide variety of health problems, including respiratory and cardiovascular problems, especially in vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, and asthmatics. Wildfires also threaten to turn forests — natural carbon sinks — into sources of emissions by releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere. Wildfires can cause billions of dollars of damages, and the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior often spend billions of dollars on resources to combat them.
Resources for covering wildfires:
Smoke pollution is leading to serious public health impacts as large wildfires across the American West become more frequent and destructive.
Wildfires in California’s Central Valley are undermining progress made in cutting air pollution; air is getting dirtier during lengthening fire season.
Wildfires can cause dangerously high levels of air pollution, with some days seeing air pollution levels as hazardous as Beijing, China.