Daniel A. Jaffe, Susan M. O'Neill, Narasimhan K. Larkin, Amara L. Holder, David L. Peterson, Jessica E. Halofsky, Ana G. Rappold
Year Published:

Cataloging Information

Fuel Treatments & Effects
Naturally-ignited Fire-use treatments
Prescribed Fire-use treatments
Smoke & Air Quality

NRFSN number: 22839
Record updated: March 29, 2021

Air quality impacts from wildfires have been dramatic in recent years, with millions of people exposed to elevated and sometimes hazardous fine particulate matter (PM 2.5 ) concentrations for extended periods. Fires emit particulate matter (PM) and gaseous compounds that can negatively impact human health and reduce visibility. While the overall trend in U.S. air quality has been improving for decades, largely due to implementation of the Clean Air Act, seasonal wildfires threaten to undo this in some regions of the United States. Our understanding of the health effects of smoke is growing with regard to respiratory and cardiovascular consequences and mortality. The costs of these health outcomes can exceed the billions already spent on wildfire suppression. In this critical review, we examine each of the processes that influence wildland fires and the effects of fires, including the natural role of wildland fire, forest management, ignitions, emissions, transport, chemistry, and human health impacts. We highlight key data gaps and examine the complexity and scope and scale of fire occurrence, estimated emissions, and resulting effects on regional air quality across the United States. The goal is to clarify which areas are well understood and which need more study. We conclude with a set of recommendations for future research.


Jaffe DA, O’Neill SM, Larkin NK, Holder AL, Peterson DL, HalofskyJE, and Rappold AG. Wildfire and prescribed burning impacts on air quality in the United States. Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association 70 (6), 583-615.

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