Wildfire smoke containing fine particulate matter can cause eye and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, congestion, coughing, impaired lung function, and chest pain. When air quality is poor, the primary public health message is to stay indoors. However, not all community members have the same ability to limit smoke exposure in the buildings where they live, work, attend school, or spend time indoors. The Sierra Fund is working with local public health officials and service providers to ensure equitable access to places with cleaner air during wildfire.
The Sierra Nevada is home to only 2% of California’s population, but these residents are among the states most at-risk for climate-induced impacts on health, specifically from exposure to wildfire smoke. The region comprises 70% of the forested land in California and most homes are located in the fire-prone wildland-urban interface. Fine particulate matter due to fire emissions is predicted to increase 150-170% in the Western United States by 2050, exacerbating an already dire public health issue.