How do the California wildfires affect the environment?

How do the California wildfires affect the environment?

The Rim Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest near in California began on Aug. 17, 2013 and is under investigation. The fire has consumed approximately 149, 780 acres and is 15% contained. U.S. Forest Service photo.

Today, the climate of our Earth changes more quickly and worsens by the day.

Food shortage, sea level rising, and pollution are accelerating current climate change. Among those causes, pollution has become the largest part of participating in human activities and natural disasters.

Remains of houses destroyed in the Oakland firestorm of 1991

Air pollution, which can be man-made or natural, is extremely impacting human health. In California, the natural air pollution comes from the wildfires that create more and more smoke and also some dangerous particles from the smog occurring in a fixed period of each year.

Fig 1. Wildfires in CA during 1951 and 2018. “A History in California Wildfires.” Capradio. 

In the California historical records, the wildfires are scattered. But the numbers are growing in recent years.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection provides clear statistics forming in a map which is during the periods of 1950 to 2018 (see Fig 1). In the past decades, the wildfires in California were not fatal yet. However, the map shows the red spots (wildfires occur) in 2017 and 2018 are obviously larger and more concentrated than before. With accelerating climate change, the environment of the west coast gets lots of influence which imbalances the climate and environment. 

Puerto Rico Fire Fighters at Miles Fire (southwestern Oregon)

In addition, the large wildfire that happened in 2019 in the region of Kincade, Sonoma, is an example of how more serious climate change impacts year by year. According to the news article “CITY & STATE; Blaze Dirties Air Over Bay Area; Health Officials Warn Residents to Avoid Exposure to Smoke from Kincade Fire,” the author, Alejandra Reyes-Velarde, describes some severe impacts caused by this 21,900-acre wildfire in Kincade. As a result, the continuous burning in northern Sonoma County has produced a large amount of smog and smoke.

The summer 2008 wildfires were widespread and deadly, with at least 3,596 wildfires of various origins burning throughout Northern and Central California, for around four months

Thus, the residents of Kincade have to move or stay in a safe place to avoid inserting more harmful air from this giant fire.

Firstly, the smoke from the wildfires creates a large amount of air pollution – PM 2.5 from wildfires.

Furthermore, these air particles can easily enter the human body by breathing. As a result, they have a severely negative influence on health. Once the residents from the wildfire areas breathe in the dangerous air, the “respiratory and cardiovascular hospital admissions, emergency department visits and deaths” are going to increase more and more according to the Department of Health. 

The interview video of Mustafa Santiago Ali, the Vice President of environmental justice, climate, and community revitalization, and Dharna Noor, the editor of the Real News Networks, discuss the consequence of those wildfires in California that the fire “exists in the droughts and making [droughts] more severe.” In addition, rising temperatures cause droughts and fire, and the fire causes the temperature to rise. Inside of the vicious cycle, the situations of California burning only become worse and worse.

A series of influences accompany wildfires, and even some zones appear as extreme phenomena.

Satellite image from October, 2003 including Cedar Fire, one of the largest wildfires in California history

In 2018, there is no day of clean air during June and August. The state monitoring data shows that “the region violated federal smog standards for 87 consecutive days, the longest stretch of bad air in at least 20 years” (Barboza). Also, the ozone pollution of California is increasing at a rate of eleven days per year. It maximized over the summer of 2018 that “every day exceeds the federal health standard of 70 parts per billion somewhere across Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties” (Barboza). Furthermore, this kind of climate is being too harsh for people to live within, and no one can predict when it will come to them again in the future. 

Furthermore, in the statistics of Jia Coco Liu’s academic article, “Particulate Air Pollution from Wildfires in the Western US Under Climate Change,” the Fire Smoke Risk Index (FSRI) is increasing about 75 over 561 counties in the U.S. (see Fig 2), and some counties might encounter the air pollution from the wildfire at least once.

It is statistically significant that the frequency of smoke is going to “increase from an average across counties of 0.98 smoke waves/year (range 0–4.00/year) in the present day to 1.53/year (0–4.83/year) under climate change in the 2050s” (Liu).


For now, there is no obvious frequent wildfire along the west coast in the U.S., but Liu uses the statistical prediction of her research to prove that the increase of wildfires and air pollution in California is inevitable in the future. The Index of the Fire Smoke Risk presents how the climate has changed nowadays. According to her research, the frequency of smoke from wildfires will reach a higher level, which means, most lands on the ground are likely having more wildfires in the later years. 

Moreover, a few decades ago, the U.S. government started to arrange a part of the prisoners to do the firefighting job.

This action is not just for these prisoners’ compensation, but also for practicing their duty and benefitting the world. With the wage of only two dollars and one dollar extra for firefighting per day, these prisoners dedicate themselves to this dangerous work and become many real firefighters. Moreover, a prisoner named Daniel Erickson describes his working condition: he is in an over 100-degree temperature with his colleagues together to protect communities (Singh).

Such an extremely hot and low-salary job, almost no one wants to be a firefighter. As a result, these prisoners fill out the empty space of firefighting. Besides the high temperature, the poison from the fire hurts their bodies when they extinguish the flames. A large amount of air poison surrounds them, and they have to encounter many problems with their health. 

In conclusion, if the air pollution improves, then people’s health gets better as well. Facing reality, the records of wildfires are only increasing, and it is hard to control all the wildfires and air pollution. Lastly, there is no way to stop the California wildfires going on, but the only thing we can do is to understand how these wildfires get increased.

How do the California wildfires affect the environment? Written by Rita Nie

Back To News

Ali, Mustafa Santiago, and Dharna Noor. “California Sees Deadliest Wildfire in History.” The Real News Network, 14 Sept. 2018, 

Barboza, Tony. “L.A.’S BAD AIR DAYS; Ozone Readings Violated Standards for nearly Three Months Straight, the Longest Span in 20 Years.” Los Angeles Times, Sep 22, 2018. ProQuest, 

“Department of Health.” Fine Particles (PM 2.5) Questions and Answers, Feb. 2018, 

Liu, Jia C., et al. “Particulate Air Pollution from Wildfires in the Western US Under Climate Change.” Climatic Change, vol. 138, no. 3-4, 2016, pp. 655-666. ProQuest,,doi: to an external site. Reyes-Velarde, Alejandra. “CITY & STATE; Blaze Dirties Air Over Bay Area; Health Officials Warn Residents to Avoid Exposure to Smoke from Kincade Fire.” Los Angeles Times, Oct 26, 2019. ProQuest,

Singh, Lakshmi. “Serving Time And Fighting California Wildfires.” NPR, NPR, 18 Nov. 2018, r-2-a-day. 

Lastly, Watts, Anthony. California’s Wildfire History – in One Map. Newstex, 27 Jan. 2019, 

Lastly, lastly Zentner, Emily, and Chris Hagan. “A History Of California Wildfires.”, 2018,