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Health Indicator Report of Wildfires

Wildfires can adversely affect human health, primarily through exposure to smoke. Wildfire smoke negatively affects everyone, but individuals with pre-existing conditions may have worse symptoms. Common symptoms from smoke inhalation include shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, coughing, irritated sinuses, and stinging eyes. Vulnerable populations would include those with asthma, heart or lung disease, and other pre-existing respiratory conditions. Individuals with respiratory problems may experience trouble breathing, wheezing, cough, and chest discomfort. Those with heart disease may experience fatigue, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, and shortness of breath. If the wildfire is severe enough or if there is a high frequency of fires producing an abundance of smoke, even healthy individuals may experience these symptoms [2]. Wildfire frequency is dependent on a delicate balance between precipitation, heat, abundance of fuel (i.e., grass) and natural or human-caused ignition. No one aspect specifically causes a wildfire, but the relationship between these different factors can determine a high- or low-frequency wildfire season. A heavy snowpack in the winter with a wet spring and a slow transition from cool to warm weather could result in a low wildfire season. Consequently, a dry winter, rapid heating in the spring, and an abundance of dry grass could lead to a high-frequency fire season [3]. Although research is limited, it is suspected that climate change could interfere with this multi-factorial balance and potentially alter wildfire frequency. Climate change affects seasonal precipitation and temperature, so it is possible that less precipitation and higher temperatures due to changes in the climate could increase the frequency of wildfires. Climate experts project that as the climate continues to change, so will the frequency of extreme weather events. Such events have the potential to adversely affect human health and are therefore a public health concern. Droughts, floods, and wildfires have occurred in Utah, but the question is whether climate change will influence the frequency of these extreme weather events.

Wildfires: Total Number of Wildfires, by Year, Utah 2002-2015

Notes

The National Park Service states that "Fires customarily are classified as either natural or human-caused. A wildfire is usually started by lightning, lava, or people. Some wildfires ignited naturally may be managed for multiple objectives, which mean they can be monitored, or if management feels it is necessary, contained and extinguished." [4]

Data Source

National Interagency Fire Center

Definition

Any free burning uncontainable wildland fire not prescribed for the area which consumes the natural fuels and spreads in response to its environment. [1]

Numerator

This Indicator Report contains the following variables: # Number of acres burned due to wildfires # Number of wildfires # Cost due to wildfire (in U.S. dollars)

Denominator

Not applicable.

What Is Being Done?

Since a variety of agencies handle wildfire response in Utah, public health's role is primarily educational. The CDC has a web page dedicated to how to protect yourself during a fire and what to do after a fire has occurred. How to limit smoke exposure, protecting your home, and treatment for burn victims are some of the topics discussed. Access to wildfire education can be obtained at [https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/wildfires/].

Available Services

Up-to-date information about wildfires in Utah can be obtained from the Utah Fire Info website at [https://www.utahfireinfo.gov/]
Page Content Updated On 02/13/2017, Published on 02/13/2017
The information provided above is from the Department of Health's Center for Health Data IBIS-PH web site (http://ibis.health.state.gov). The information published on this website may be reproduced without permission. Please use the following citation: " Retrieved Sun, 28 May 2017 12:28:23 from Department of Health, Center for Health Data, Indicator-Based Information System for Public Health Web site: http://ibis.health.state.gov ".

Content updated: Mon, 13 Feb 2017 10:47:02 MST