Report Overview

In recent years, California experienced the largest, most destructive and deadliest wildfires in its history. Wildfires can cause fatalities and injuries, impair air quality for nearby and distant populations, and devastate the immediate area, leaving communities with often burned and hazardous landscapes and infrastructure. Over the last half-century, California has experienced a five-fold increase in annual burned acreage from wildfires. Atmospheric aridity and fuel-drying, extended drought, and pathogen-impacted forests — all of which are driven and compounded by anthropogenic climate change — increase risks posed by wildfires. Additionally, increased development at the wildland-urban interface (WUI) puts more individuals at risk of harm from these natural disasters.

Increased wildfire risks are driving California to re-evaluate its strategies to both prevent and suppress wildfires and to mitigate wildfire impacts. These strategies include, but are not limited to, prescribed burning, the use of chemical fire suppression and, more recently, the implementation of public safety power shutoffs (PSPS). However, various approaches to prevent and suppress wildfire and mitigate wildfire-related impacts in California also hold near- and long-term implications for public health, and may shift health burdens to different populations, geographies and timescales. To date, the public health implications of various wildfire prevention and mitigation strategies have not been thoroughly characterized and synthesized.

In this report we summarize and integrate scientific information on the public health dimensions of both wildfire and approaches to wildfire prevention, mitigation and suppression into a synthetic framework. Our approach consists primarily of 1) a review of the peer-reviewed literature, government reports, grey literature and news media and 2) interviews with local and State agency staff.  The aim of this project is to better equip California agencies, researchers and risk managers to effectively manage wildfire-related risks in ways that incorporate data-driven public health information into decision-making.

For more information, please contact PSE Senior Scientist Lee Ann Hill at