Wildfires threaten more than land and homes. The smoke they produce contains fine particles (PM2.5) that can poison the air for hundreds of miles. Air pollution from the 2016 Fort McMurray fire in northern Alberta, Canada, sent people as far away as Michigan to the hospital with respiratory illnesses. As wildfires increase in frequency and severity due to climate change, more and more communities are at risk of prolonged exposure to harmful levels of smoke. Harvard University researchers, in collaboration with colleagues at Yale University, have created a watch list of hundreds of counties in the western United States at the highest risk of exposure to dangerous levels of pollution from wildfires in the coming decades. Among them, heavily populated counties such as San Francisco County, Calif., King County, Wash., Alameda County, Calif., and Contra Costa County, Calif., are projected to face the highest level of risk of wildfire smoke exposure in the coming decades.
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