Key points

Climate change increases the risk of wildfires in forests. Prolonged high temperatures contribute to this risk, affecting air quality and posing health risks.

A top-down view of a fire in a wooded area, creating a large amount of smoke near buildings and residencies.

Effects on the environment

Wildfire smoke contains the following materials that can greatly reduce air quality, both nearby and in areas downwind:

  • Particulate matter
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Various dangerous organic compounds (which are ozone precursors)

Climate change increases the risk of wildfires in forests, especially in certain areas of the United States. Long periods of very high temperatures are linked to droughts and dry conditions, making areas in danger of wildfires.

Effects on people

Thousands of deaths each year are caused by smoke exposure. Climate change is negatively affecting our health by increasing the risk of wildfires that release harmful pollutants into the air.

Smoke exposure can increase:

  • Breathing and heart-related hospitalizations
  • Emergency department visits
  • The need for medication for asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Chest pain
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (also known as COPD)
  • Respiratory infections

CDC resources

  • Wildfires – Prepare, stay safe during, and protect health post-wildfire.
  • Wildfire Smoke and Air Quality – protect yourself from wildfire smoke, particularly for people with respiratory or cardiovascular illnesses, and children, pregnant women, and responders
  • NIOSH Fighting Wildfires – resources for wildland firefighters, fire departments, and partner organizations