Implications of the California Wildfires for Health, Communities, and Preparedness: A Workshop

Type: Stand Alone Workshop
Topics: Environmental Health, Public Health, Select Populations and Health Equity
Boards: Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice, Board on Health Sciences Policy

Activity Description

California and other wildfire-prone western states have experienced a substantive increase in the number and intensity of wildfires in recent years. Indeed, a "new normal" in wildfires has emerged in California and elsewhere. According to the Sacramento Bee, large scale wildfires in California destroyed or damaged more than 10,000 structures in 2017, a higher total than the previous nine years combined. In November 2018, the Camp Fire alone killed at least 85 people and destroyed more than 18,000 structures, becoming California's deadliest and most destructive wildfire on record. Wild lands and climate experts expect these trends to continue and possibly worsen in coming years.

Wildfires and other similar disasters are particularly difficult for vulnerable communities. They experience worse health outcomes, have fewer resources to respond and rebuild, and receive less assistance from state, local, and federal agencies. Disaster-related trauma adds to the health burden of people who experience a dangerous wildfire. These burdens are particularly difficult for low income families and communities of color. Because burning wood releases particulate matter and other toxicants, the health effects of wildfires extend well beyond burns. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people with heart disease, respiratory disease, or who are elderly or very young use a free-standing air filter, which vulnerable persons might not be able to afford. Long-term exposures due to deposition of toxicants in soil and water can result in chronic exposures as well.

Vulnerable communities also tend to have fewer resources to prepare for and respond to environmental disasters such as a wildfires. Residents of these communities are less likely to own their own homes and are less likely to have the resources to rebuild. Even relatively small expenses such as tree trimming, brush removal, or other fire prevention services may be beyond their financial means.

Public service agencies that provide assistance to individuals in underserved communities that have experienced a wildfire are often not well-equipped to provide the appropriate assistance, and disaster response plans often do not address the unique needs of underserved populations. A collaborative public workshop will convene experts to address the aforementioned issues.

This workshop will be held in Sacramento, CA, on June 4-5, 2019. 
Boxed lunch will be provided at the workshop.

The roundtables/forums hosting the workshop are:

 Forum on Medical and Public Health Preparedness for Disasters and Emergencies

 Roundtable on Population Heath Improvement 

 Roundtable on Promotion of Health Equity

 Roundtable on Environmental Health Services, Research, and Medicine


For more information

Previous Meetings for this Activity