The 2020 California wildfires are among the worst in history and the wildfire season is just starting. Wildfires have been a feature of the mountain west for eons but the fires of the last few years have been catastrophic in loss of property, life and health. With increased fires at the wildfire urban interface the effects of the fires and the smoke they cause are impacting front-line firefighters and Californians all over the state, even when the fire activity is hundreds of miles away.
The duration of the wildfire season is longer, now stretching from summer into early winter, and catastrophic wildfires are increasing in size and frequency due to climate change. The fires are also having an impact on air quality with clear evidence of an association between wildfire smoke and respiratory health. Smoke also likely causes other negative health outcomes such as adverse birth outcomes.
Dr. John Balmes, UCSF Professor of Medicine, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, and Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, ZSFG/UCSF, explains the impacts of smoke on health and discusses studies underway to improve our knowledge as we continue to deal with devastating wildfires that are projected to get worse.