wildfire with smoke plume and houses nearby

Data-driven estimates of wildfire hazard on climate impacts in California


One of the greatest threats Californians face as the climate changes is the increasing size, severity, and frequency of wildfires. These wildfires pose a growing threat to human welfare through both direct (e.g. property damage) and indirect (e.g. air quality impacts) channels. In 2020 – the largest wildfire season ever recorded in the state – more than 4.3 million acres burned, resulting in an estimated 112 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere. 

Through previous research, we developed the Climate Vulnerability Metric (CVM), a tool for understanding the relative impact of climate change across California’s diverse communities. The CVM quantifies the community-level impacts of a warming climate on human welfare, including projected impacts on labor, human mortality, household energy costs, and flood-related property damage. To support wildfire resilience and prepare for the future, we are building on this work to assess community-level wildfire risk under climate change in California. This initial scoping project will build tract-level estimates of climate change impacts on burn risks faced by people and properties, while outlining a framework for future integration of wildfire and smoke-related health impacts into the CVM. In the future, this research could augment the existing risk categories of the CVM by incorporating the lived-experience impact of wildfires in California.


To determine how climate change influences the risk and hazards of wildfires across California, we are developing datasets and a detailed framework on how estimates of wildfire property risks and the health and economic risks of wildfire-induced air pollution can be incorporated into the CVM. This includes (1) building a dataset that identifies climate change’s impact on the risk of wildfire across California; (2) developing a dataset that translates wildfire risk into a limited set of wildfire hazards that capture the human welfare implications of changing wildfire risk; and (3) outlining a research framework that can be used to fully incorporate wildfire hazards into an updated version of the existing CVM. Over time, the wildfire risk data, wildfire hazard data, and corresponding research framework developed in this project will be used to estimate both the direct and indirect effects of climate change-driven changes to wildfires at the community scale, which can be used to inform mitigation and adaptation strategies at the state and local levels.


This project is in collaboration with Marshall Burke and Minghao Qiu from Stanford University with funding from the California Air Resources Board.