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Wildfire Smoke and Health

Topics: Forest Fires, Outdoor Air


The frequency and intensity of Canadian wildfires is increasing as a consequence of the changing global climate, as well as long-standing forest management practices (Flannigan et al., 2013). Fires pose a direct threat to lives and properties in some communities, and also cause episodes of extreme smoke pollution that threaten the health of populations over large geographic areas.

  • Wildfire smoke is a complex blend of gasses and particles, including heavy metals; smoke exposure has been associated with a wide range of acute health effects, from increased reporting of respiratory and cardiac symptoms through to increased risk of mortality. (Finlay et al., 2012)

  • The most recent estimate of premature deaths worldwide due to wildfire smoke was 339,000 annually over the period of 1997 to 2006. (Johnston et al., 2012)

  • Some populations are more susceptible to these effects, including: those suffering from respiratory or cardiovascular disease; pregnant women; infants and young children; the elderly; and those of low socioeconomic status. (Reid et al., 2016; Liu, 2015)

  • A report published by the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM) found that the number of fires occurring at the wildland-urban interface is increasing and the damages are likely compounded due to climate change.  (Canadian Council of Forest Ministers, 2013)

The resources assembled here are intended to assist public health practitioners, decision-makers, and the public by providing guidance regarding public health impacts, community preparedness, risk communication and response to wildfires and wildfire smoke.

NCCEH Resources

  • Public health responses to wildfire smoke events (Maguet, 2018)
    This Health Canada-funded project examines public health preparedness and response to wildfire smoke events in four Canadian jurisdictions, with the aim of understanding practitioners’ needs and challenges. The report provides insight into where future inquiry and capacity development might be warranted and builds on the experiences of public health practitioners to consolidate learning in this field.

Selected External Resources


  • Social aspects of wildfire management (Natural Resources Canada, 2016)
    This webpage outlines the ways in which the Government of Canada is working with communities and partners to reduce the threat and impact of wildfires, with an emphasis on First Nations communities.

  • FireSmart guidebook for community protection (Government of Alberta, 2013)
    This manual provides tools for assessing, planning for and mitigating the impacts of Wildfires on Communities, including communication and public education materials, land use planning, and further resources. 



  • Addressing the new normal: 21st century disaster management in British Columbia (BC Flood and Wildfire Review, 2018)
    This strategic review examines and assesses government response to the flood and wildfire events of the 2017 season. The review incorporates consultations with individuals, Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, as well as organizations and other stakeholders to gain a wide cross-section of perspectives from those affected.

  • From the ashes: reimagining fire safety and emergency management in Indigenous communities (Report of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, 2018)
    This report summarizes findings from a study on the response and long-term impacts of the 2017 summer wildfires in First Nation communities. The report also addresses fire safety on reserves, resources, tools, and training needs, and the significant gaps in the current approach to emergency management in First Nation communities. Recommendations coming out of the study are also included and focus on fire safety, prevention, funding, fire protection standards, and data collection.

  • FireSmoke Canada (2018)
    This webpage provides services and data on air quality and health & safety for emergency management professionals, researchers, and the public by using the BlueSky Canada forecasting system to report hourly concentrations of smoke particles (PM 2.5) from wildfires up to 48hrs in advance.

  • BC Air Quality website (2018)
    This webpage gives information about air pollution, how BC measures and monitors air quality, and gives tools to access air quality advisories, air quality data, and the Air Quality health Index.

  • Wildfire smoke: frequently asked questions (WorkSafe BC, 2017)
    This factsheet provides employers with information on the health hazards of wildfire smoke and measures that can be taken to minimize the effects on workers.

  • BC Health wildfire smoke response coordination guidelines  (BC Centre for Disease Control, 2017)
    The purpose of this advisory document is to describe the powers and legislation that can be applied by decision-makers when taking measures, including evacuation, to minimize the public health impacts of wildfire smoke. It describes the activation, coordination and response to wildfire smoke, and the process for assessing outcomes and making recommendations to protect public health interventions.

  • Effectiveness of public health messaging and communication channels during smoke events: a rapid systemic review (Fish et al., 2017)
    This systemic review investigates the effectiveness of various communication channels for public health messaging during smoke events and their effectiveness at reaching general and more vulnerable populations.

  • Forest fires: a clinician primer (Nsoh et al., 2016)
    This article succinctly reviews populations most at risk during fire events, tools for situational awareness (e.g., smoke forecasting and environmental monitoring), and steps that can be taken to protect patients.

  • Portable air cleaners should be at the forefront of the public health response to landscape fire smoke (Barn et al, 2016)
    This evidence review assesses the usage of portable air cleaners and the level to which the information provided by public health authorities corresponds with recommended usage, advocating for their use in response to smoke from wildfires.

  • Guidance for BC public health decision makers during wildfire smoke events (BC Centre for Disease Control, 2014)
    This advisory document provides public health decision makers with current evidence and BC-specific guidance for the assessment of, preparation, and possible interventions for a wildfire smoke event.

  • Evidence review: Home and community clean air shelters to protect public health during wildfire smoke events (BC Centre for Disease Control, 2014)
    This evidence review outlines the state of knowledge on the use of portable air cleaners, larger scale air conditioning and considerations for the implementation of community and home clean air shelters.

  • Evidence Review: Using masks to protect public health during wildfire smoke events (BC Centre for Disease Control, 2014)
    This evidence review clarifies types of respiratory protection that can be used by the public, what air toxins they can protect against, and addresses the effectiveness and efficacy of these devices.

Protecting Fire fighters’ Health

  • Wildland fire fighting safety and health (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012)
    This website provides information on the health impacts of wildfires on fire fighters, tips on how to prevent and reduce heat stress, cardiac and respiratory hazards, fatigue, and other injuries.

  • Fighting with fire: how bushfire suppression can impact on fire fighters’ health (Aisbett, 2007)
    This article provides information for health practitioners on the health impacts of wildfire smoke on firefighters, tips to be aware of when assessing firefighter health, and recommendations for preparing firefighter patients before bushfire season.


This list is not intended to be exhaustive. Omission of a resource does not preclude it from having value.

Last updatedAug 23, 2018