“Smoke waves” from wildfires are getting worse — and getting more people sick

Shrouded by smoke from a fire in California’s parched San Bernardino Mountains, schools in the Victor Valley closed their doors earlier this month. The Pilot Fire was contained eventually — shortly before the Blue Cut Fire broke out, billowing soot and ash over the valley afresh, forcing further closures.

As the district warned valley residents to “limit time spent outdoors” and to seek medical care for respiratory ailments, school and health clinic closures and canceled sporting events were reminders that health impacts from wildfires carry further than the flames.

In the West, where populations living near forests and scrublands are growing, global warming is projected to fuel worsening wildfires, mostly by drying out the land. Research published recently showed how those forces will combine to cause wildfire pollution to threaten tens of millions more people during the years ahead.

Researchers have taken to using the term “smoke wave” to describe the type of multi-day impacts from wildfire pollution that were experienced this month in the Victor Valley.

Scientists from Yale and Harvard calculated that 82 million residents of the West will experience smoke waves that are two days or longer during a six-year period beginning in the late 2040s. That’s a 44 percent increase from a six-year period last decade.

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