What are they, and who’s most affected by them?


What are they, and who’s most affected by them?


Unplanned fires can spread quickly and burn in natural areas like forests and grasslands, affecting communities.

Wildfire danger

Wildfires spread fast and cause smoke that’s harmful to breathe.


Leave when local authorities tell you to go. If you haven’t received evacuation instructions but feel unsafe where you are — leave.

Temperatures have hit record highs in many locations in the U.S. in recent years. Hot, dry conditions can fuel more intense wildfire seasons. We’ve experienced an increasing number of significant wildfires across the country.

How vulnerable is your home and neighborhood to wildfires? How vulnerable are you and your family to the health impacts of wildfire smoke?

A recent analysis by the Stanford Environmental Change and Human Outcomes Lab reported that 2023 qualified as the worst smoke exposure season in the U.S. since 2006. The smoke wildfires produce can affect people who live hundreds of miles away from the fire.

“You need to know your risks on many levels,” said Susan Fitzgerald, MD, emergency medicine physician for Kaiser Permanente in Northern California.

According to Dr. Fitzgerald the pollution from wildfire smoke, which contains fine particulate matter, can travel deep into the respiratory tract, and pass into the bloodstream. “It’s dangerous for anyone to breathe in, and people with certain health conditions face additional risks.”

Recognize wildfire health hazards

Possible short-term health effects
  • Eye and throat irritation
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Reduced lung function
  • Chest pain
  • Bronchitis
Additional health effects for
at-risk populations
  • Worsening asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Increased risk of heart attacks, heart failure, and stroke
  • Increased emergency department and hospital admissions
  • Increased risk of premature death

Your mental health can also be affected by wildfires. For people who have lost homes, been evacuated due to fire, or had fires in their yards, the emotional effects can be like the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. People who already have mental health conditions are susceptible to increased symptoms due to the unstable environment.

Even if you don’t live in an area affected by wildfires, it’s possible to feel anxious or upset when hearing the devastating stories of people experiencing loss from fires.

Are you or a family member at a higher risk?

Protect yourself and your family

Know your risks and make a plan Find out your location’s risk for wildfires. Develop an evacuation plan for yourself and your family and practice it often. Practice will help everyone respond in a safe and organized way during a real event.
Sign up for local emergency alerts Track the latest recommendations from your local emergency and weather authorities to determine the current threat to your community and whether safety measures, such as evacuation, are necessary.
Prepare a go bag Pack an easy-to-carry emergency survival kit filled with basic supplies for yourself and your family. Be sure to include prescription medications and other medical supplies you may need.
Be ready to evacuate quickly If local authorities advise it, or if you feel you are in danger — leave. Go to a designated evacuation shelter or to a friend or family member’s house out of the area.
Reduce your risk of smoke exposure

During periods of high smoke levels and poor air quality, stay indoors. Limit time outdoors and avoid nonessential outdoor activities, such as exercise. Close doors, windows, and other entryways.

If your home doesn’t have good insulation or weatherization, place damp towels or painter’s tape around doors and windows to cover air leaks and prevent wildfire smoke pollution from entering.

Keep your air clean

Use a portable air cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to reduce your risk of inhaling smoke particles.

  • If you don’t have a high-quality air cleaner, you can make one with a box fan and an air filter.
  • If you are driving or inside a vehicle, turn on your car’s air conditioner and set it to recirculate to avoid exposure to outside air.
  • If you must go outside, wear an N95 or P100 mask for the best protection. Paper and cloth masks will not protect your lungs from wildfire smoke.
Monitor air quality levels Wildfire smoke can be hazardous to air quality and your health, even after an emergency event has ended. Stay up to date on the air quality levels in your area by checking airnow.gov.

Find resources

Sign up for emergency alerts in your area. State emergency management offices for Kaiser Permanente areas are:

Find assistance programs in your area using the Kaiser Permanente Community Support Hub,

If you are unable to afford your weatherization expenses, contact the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program for help.

The American Red Cross has more tips on what you should do before, during, and after wildfires.

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