Newswise — As another wildfire season starts to burn large parts of the American West, many people only focus on the economic impact of the homes and forests that are destroyed in the blaze.

Klaus Moeltner, a Virginia Tech professor of agricultural and applied economics who has extensively studied wildfires, points out that smoke from these fires travels hundreds of miles and has a serious impact on the health of people who live downwind.

“We always talk about the immediately economic impact of these fires, but it is very possible that the bulk of the damage is the smoke that travels for hundreds of miles and has serious health effects,” Moeltner said.

Moeltner’s bio

Smoke from fires can cause a host of respiratory and cardiovascular issues and degrades air quality in already polluted areas where people can have trouble breathing.

Moeltner said as fires become increasingly commonplace, more thought needs to be put into how people in an entire region may be impacted by an upwind blaze hundreds of miles away.

For example, he found that smoke from the 2008 wildfire season caused more than $2.2 million dollars in inpatient costs alone to the Reno/Sparks area of Northern Nevada, with many of the highest-impact burns outside of a 100 mile radius. Adding outpatient costs and economic losses due to foregone productivity and recreational opportunities would likely substantially increase this figure.

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