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What is the Impact of Wildfires on Health?


Wildfires are uncontrolled fires that are caused by human activity or a natural occurrence such as lightning. The cause remains unknown in about half of all wildfires. Although wildfires can occur anywhere globally, dry weather conditions and strong winds can aggravate their impact of damage. These have grown in number in the recent times owing to climate change.

Climate change threatens to increase the frequency, extent, and severity of fires through increased temperatures and drought.

Wildfires can affect human population in a myriad of ways. In affected areas, public infrastructure and amenities such as communication, water supply, power and gas supply, transportation services get disrupted or damaged. People may have to evacuate or relocate temporarily or permanently.

Wildfires have a harmful impact on health and increase morbidity and mortality burden:

  • Smoke from the wildfires contains particulate matter and many gases. These pollute the air quality and cause burns and irritation to eyes nose throat and lungs.
  • Smoke exposure has been associated with an increase in heart and lung ailments and subsequent hospitalisations.
  • People in high-risk groups such as infants, young children, pregnant individuals, elderly and those with pre-existing lung and heart conditions are more vulnerable than others.
  • For some groups such as fire-fighters and farmers, facing wildfires and their smoke is an occupational hazard.

What can organisations do to minimise the impact?

Organisations can consider a multipronged approach to control the wildfires and their health effects. Strategies include:

  • Prevention
  • Preparedness
  • Response
  • Recovery measures
Factors such as risk assessments, early warning systems, and mitigation measures across different scenarios are crucial for organisations that face this threat. To a large extent, early, timely and regular intervention can help mitigate the risks due to wildfires.
For information on how our Health Consulting team can support your organisation in addressing health risks, follow this link.