Wildfire Health and Safety Information and Resources

Local Health Departments’ Role in Wildfire Response

Local health departments are life-saving first responders to natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, floods and earthquakes, as well as to other public health emergencies such as disease outbreaks, major accidents and terrorist attacks. The nearly 3,000 local health departments across our nation stand ready to help protect residents and families from hurricanes and all sorts of natural disasters and play a vital role in any recovery efforts. Their dedicated staffs work year-round to prepare and are on call 24-hours a day, every day, to respond when needed.

During wildfires, public health has a critical role in response and helping communities recover. LHDs are responsible for advising emergency management and state and local authorities on the health impacts of wildfires to inform and support response actions (e.g., residential and healthcare evacuations, air quality assessments).  LHDs communicate with the public about the health risks of smoke and recommended actions to protect their health. Additionally, LHDs provide staff and resources to support evacuation centers and shelters for those displaced by wildfires.

Health Impacts

Wildfires can create widespread threats to public health and the environment. Smoke, ash, toxins, and dust can affect air quality. Wildfire smoke contains a mixture of chemical, gases and fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which is the main pollutant of concern in smoke since it can penetrate deep into the lungs. Smoke inhalation can cause immediate health effects, like coughing, stinging eyes, scratchy throat and trouble breathing normally, and can also lead to heart attacks, strokes and severe respiratory effects, including asthma attacks and acute bronchitis. People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children are most at risk. Susceptible individuals also include pregnant women, newborns and people with obesity or diabetes.

Resources

As the association representing local health departments, the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) will continue to assist and support these departments with their response and recovery efforts. We extend our appreciation and support to the firefighters, first responders, public health, emergency management, healthcare professionals and other partners and individuals who help our communities to respond and recover from wildfires. . NACCHO has compiled a list of resources to help affected LHDs, healthcare professionals, first responders and the general public to respond to and recover from these events.

Response

  • Resources for LHDs
  • Resources for responders and healthcare professionals
  • Resources for the public

Risk and Emergency Communications

Emergency Shelters

Mental/Behavioral Health

Recovery and Clean-up

For responders and clean-up workers

For the general public

LHDs with questions or other needs related to the wildfires may contact NACCHO’s Preparedness team at preparedness@naccho.org.

About Katie Dwyer

Katie Schemm Dwyer is a Director in NACCHO's Preparedness Division. Her work focuses on supporting local health departments strengthen public health preparedness systems through governance, coordination and liaison with federal preparedness organizations, policy, and program management.

2 thoughts on “Wildfire Health and Safety Information and Resources

  1. July 31, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    Thanks for this info Katie. For more information on wildfire health and safety issues, please see the National Library of Medicine Disaster Information Management Research Center Wildfire topic page:
    https://disasterinfo.nlm.nih.gov/wildfires

    1. Katie Dwyer
      September 13, 2018 at 9:54 am

      Thank you Stacey and the National Library of Medicine for this information!

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