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Fifth National Climate Assessment - Read the Report

New report assesses the science of wildland fire smoke

Fire researchers observe the behavior of a prescribed fire in the Indian Creek area of Fishlake National Forest, Utah. Credit: Kreig Rasmussen, USDA-FS.

Area burned by wildfire in the United States has grown since the 1980s, the result of decades of fire exclusion, increased fuel loads, and recent periods of severe drought influenced by climate change. In the last two decades, increasingly heavy smoke from wildfires has exposed millions of people to unhealthy pollution levels for extended periods, causing significant negative health impacts across the United States. Multiple scientific efforts are addressing the need for better wildland fire smoke information, and investments in smoke modeling, predictions, and forecasting have increased, both as a research area and in support of wildfire response efforts.

A new scientific assessment led by USDA-FS, with participation from CDC, EPA, and NOAA, synthesizes research and knowledge on wildland fire smoke, including its public health and economic impacts, and highlights knowledge gaps for future research (Peterson et al., 2022). The assessment also surveys current management and regulatory issues related to smoke management and identifies issues that may arise with future prescribed fire programs and intensifying wildfire seasons. This assessment underscores the importance of research on wildfire smoke emissions, prediction of impacts, and public and firefighter health effects as the United States addresses climate change and its effects.