Canadian Forest Service Publications

Impacts of wildfire on children. 2019. Towers, B.; Cardinal Christianson, A.; Eriksen, C. Chapter in S. Mazello, editor. Encyclopedia of Wildfires and Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) Fires. Springer Nature, Switzerland.

Year: 2019

Issued by: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 39824

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-51727-8_90-1

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Impacts are defined as the adverse effects of wildfire on children and may include fatalities, injuries, and other effects on children’s physical and mental health, education, family functioning, and social connectedness. Children are defined as persons under the age of 18 years.

Our world is increasingly experiencing wildfires that are both more frequent and intense (IPCC 2018; Jolly et al. 2015; Sharples et al. 2016). This is exacerbating the risk of wildfire disasters, particularly on the wildland-urban interface where ongoing development and population growth is exposing greater numbers of people to potential damage and loss (Radeloff et al. 2018; Strader 2018; Theobald and Romme 2007). There is also increasing evidence that children are disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of wildfires. While the earliest studies can be traced back to southeastern Australia in the mid-1980s, the last decade has seen a surge of child-focused research in fire-affected communities. This contribution synthesizes the key findings of that research to provide an overview of the known impacts of wildfire on children – from fatalities and injuries to adverse effects on physical and mental health, educational achievement, family functioning, and social connectedness. It also highlights how a shift toward participatory research methodologies is providing increased understanding of how children are impacted by and cope with wildfires. While knowledge gaps remain, the existing research provides a strong foundation for the ongoing development of evidence-informed policy and practice that serves the specific needs of children before, during, and after wildfire events. Throughout the contribution, unless stated otherwise, the term “children” is used to refer to all persons under 18 years of age.

Plain Language Summary

As wildfires become more frequent and more intense, greater numbers of people are being exposed to potential damage and loss. There is increasing evidence that children are disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of wildfires. In this chapter in the Encyclopedia of Wildfires and Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) Fires, researchers from Australia and Canada discuss the key findings of research that has focused on the physical and mental health of children affected by wildfires. Studies on children’s physical health have consistently shown an increase in respiratory symptoms after wildfires, particularly among children with existing conditions such as asthma and bronchitis. Children have been found to experience concerning levels of psychological distress that can last more than a year after the fire. In addition, wildfires have negative impacts on children’s achievement at school and on their connectedness with their families and friends. The research that has been conducted to date has tended to treat children as a homogeneous group. The authors state that we need to learn more about how wildfires affect boys and girls, younger and older children, and children of different cultural and socioeconomic groups, including Indigenous children. Future studies also need to give children the opportunity to actively participate in wildfire research.