You are here

Wildfire Smoke and Health

Topics: Air, 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. (CCFM, 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

  • Upcoming: Responding to Wildfire Smoke Events: Role of Public Health, Perceptions and Challenges
    This Health Canada-funded project will look at public health preparedness and response to wildfire smoke events in three Canadian jurisdictions, with the aim of understanding practitioners needs and challenges.

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. 



Protecting Fire fighters’ Health



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

Last updatedOct 16, 2017