Wildfire smoke impacts health and economy hundreds of miles from fire zone
Health effects and costs in the form of respiratory and cardiovascular illness can be linked to fires as far as 200-300 miles from the smoke-impacted area, according to research from Klaus Moeltner of Virginia Tech.
Moeltner, a professor of agricultural and applied economics who has studied wildfires extensively, points out that smoke from these fires travels hundreds of miles and has a serious impact on the health of people who live downwind.
Specifically, Moeltner and co-authors predict for a population hub of 350,000 that each 100 acres of burned forest causes between $140 and $550 in smoke-related in-patient treatment costs for respiratory and cardiovascular illness, depending on fire distance and fuel type.
These numbers can add up quickly for large fires that affect high-density metropolitan areas, such as the Camp and Woolsey fires, currently active in CA.
As a back-of-the-envelope exercise, consider the 7 million people that live in the Bay Area, and that are currently affected by smoke from the Camp fire. If we assume that 100,000 of the 150,000 total burned acres produced smoke that reached the Bay area, and considering the “high fuel” type nature of the forestland consumed within relatively close distance from the impact area, the Moeltner et al. model would predict estimated medical costs from inpatient visits alone at approximately $11 million for this single fire event.
There are other, more hidden costs that have yet to be estimated, such as cancelling outdoor or sports events, and not being able to perform outdoor work, and higher electricity use from being forced to stay inside.”
Moeltner is an expert in environmental economics, specifically the valuation of natural resources and amenities, and related econometric methods. He has worked on recreation demand, wildfire smoke and health, urban water use, energy reliability and housing market studies involving risks of coastal flooding, watershed restoration, and the effects of forest damage