Wildfire Aftermath: Natural Disaster Consequences

Smoke from Wildfire

Wildland fire in action is a scary scene to witness and an extremely dangerous natural hazard. But did you know that the influence of such an emergency persists for extended periods even after the flames are put out? 

Find out everything you need to know about wildfire aftermath and approaches to recovering in this detailed guide.

Negative Wildfire After-Effects

Wildfires can have immediate and long-term effects on the environment. While they are a part of nature that plays a critical role in shaping ecosystems and promoting renewal and change, they also come with numerous risks. Here are some of them:

Impact on Wildlife

Woodpecker after Wildfire

For animals trapped in the path of a wildfire, the impacts can be life-threatening, causing the following issues:

  • Eye irritation and disorientation. Wildfire smoke and heat are highly likely to irritate the animals’ eyes and make them lose the understanding of where the way to safety is.
  • Difficulty breathing. Large volumes of wildfire smoke contaminate the air for miles, making it difficult for animals to breathe.
  • Physical injuries and burns. As the animals try to flee from fires, they may still get burns and injuries that cause extreme pain.
  • Death. Animal mortality rates spike during the wildfires. For instance, Australia’s fires in 2020 were estimated to have killed or harmed 3 billion animals.
  • Loss of habitat. It’s common to spot wildlife in unusual places as animals search for safe land. Once they find a new territory, they often have to engage in territorial disputes and compete over limited resources. 
  • Limited food and water. Food and water sources are often destroyed or contaminated in the course of wildfires, forcing animals to search for it on territories beyond their home range. This exposes them to additional risks like vehicle strikes, attacks from domestic animals, and new predators. 

  • Air Pollution

    Smoke from wildfires can rise up for many miles into the stratosphere and cause severe air pollution in areas far away from the emergency’s location.

    In fact, satellite imaging registered that a cloud of polluting wildfire emissions traveled 5,000 miles over the Atlantic Ocean from California to Europe in 2021, reaching parts of France, Belgium, and the UK.

    Water Contamination

    Wildfire behind Water

    Wildfires affect the quality of rivers, lakes, streams, and reservoirs that supply public drinking water utilities with sediments, algae-promoting nutrients, and heavy metals. Filtering these water sources can be costly and time-consuming.

    Associated Health Risks

    Wildfires release astounding amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Besides, fire smoke is dangerous as it produces fine particles that can infiltrate the lungs and cause various health issues

    While the sensitivity to smoke varies from one person to another, the general side effects of inhaling too much smoke include:

    • Burning eyes
    • Runny nose
    • Aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases
    • Premature death

    Those who are at the highest risk when exposed to wildfire smoke are:

    • Individuals with heart or lung disease
    • Older adults
    • Children and teenagers
    • Pregnant women
    • People with diabetes

    Thus, if you live in an area prone to wildfire emergencies, it’s critical to be prepared. Here’s what you can do:

    • Have a supply of nonperishable foods that don’t require cooking.
    • Get an air cleaner.
    • Try to leave a high-risk area during the wildfire season.
    • Monitor local air quality reports.
    • Have a supply of N-95 or P-100 masks.



    Forest fire aftermath often comes hand-in-hand with deforestation. A satellite-based survey by the University of Maryland and Global Forest Watch has shown that Earth lost over 97,500 square miles of forests in 2021, an area approximately the size of Oregon.

    According to Stephanie Roe, a lead global climate scientist for the World Wildlife Fund, the loss of forests means locking in emissions, similar to building a coal plant that will emit planet-warming pollutants for decades.

    Ecological Benefits of Wildfires

    Wildfire Aftermath

    While wildfires are certainly destructive and can be a real natural disaster, low-intensity fires that don’t grow out of control can be beneficial.

    Here are some ways in which wildland fires make a positive contribution to the environment:

  • Cleaning the forest floor. Wildfire clears the forest floor from low-growing underbrush and debris, opens it up to sunlight, and nourishes the soil. This ensures less nutrient competition for established trees, allowing them to grow stronger and healthier. 
  • Providing habitat and shelter. When fire clears wildlands of heavy brush, it clears up space for new grasses, herbs, and regenerated shrubs that will serve as sources of food and habitat for many species. However, the regeneration of vegetation takes time, causing temporary distress for native fauna.
  • Killing disease and insects. Fire helps keep the forest healthy by eliminating diseases and pests that prey on trees.
  • Promoting the growth of fire-dependent flora. Some vegetation needs fire every 3-25 years to continue thriving. There are trees that have fire-resistant bark and cones that need heat to open up and release seeds.

  • While there are beneficial consequences of wildfires for the environment, it’s crucial to remember that they still are a significant natural hazard.

    Wildfire aftermath can be long-lasting and extremely difficult to deal with, so it’s important to take all the necessary precautions to prevent uncontrollable flames from starting. You can see each step in the Guidebook located in the Grab + Go Box