Wildfire Smoke and Health Impacts: A Closer Look at Fire Attributes and their Marginal Effects

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Journal of Environmental Economics and Management





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Existing studies on the economic impact of wildfire smoke have focused on single fire events or entire seasons without considering the marginal effect of daily fire progression on downwind communities. Neither approach allows for an examination of the impact of even the most basic fire attributes, such as distance and fuel type, on air quality and health outcomes. Improved knowledge of these effects can provide important guidance for efficient wildfire management strategies. This study aims to bridge this gap using detailed information on 24 large-scale wildfires that sent smoke plumes to the Reno/Sparks area of Northern Nevada over a 4-year period. We relate the daily acreage burned by these fires to daily data on air pollutants and local hospital admissions. Using information on medical expenses, we compute the per-acre health cost of wildfires of different attributes. We find that patient counts can be causally linked to fires as far as 200–300 miles from the impact area. As expected, the marginal impact per acre burned generally diminishes with distance and for fires with lighter fuel loads. Our results also highlight the importance of allowing for temporal lags between fire occurrence and pollutant levels.

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