Wildfires pose serious threat to inpatient health care facilities in California

May 11, 2023 – Wildfires threaten a significant percentage of hospitals and other inpatient health care facilities in California—and in many counties, all the health care facilities may be at risk, according to a new study co-authored by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study was published March 2 in the American Journal of Public Health. The co-authors—all part of Crisis Ready, a team based at Harvard and Direct Relief that works to embed data-driven decision-making into disaster planning—included Harvard Chan School’s Caleb Dresser, Akash Yadav, and Satchit Balsari.

Researchers looked at the distance between each of 3,087 inpatient facilities in California and the nearest of three types of fire threat zones—those considered high threat, very high threat, and extreme threat.

The authors found that 95% of California’s inpatient beds at hospitals, nursing homes, and mental health facilities are located within 3.7 miles of a high fire threat zone. And half of all inpatient beds are even closer—just 0.87 miles away—from a high fire threat zone.

In addition, half of the inpatient beds are within 3.3 miles of a very high fire threat zone and within 15.5 miles of an extreme fire threat zone.

With climate change–driven wildfires on the upswing in California and other western U.S. states, the researchers recommended that hospital leaders and policymakers plan ahead for possible evacuations, for disruption to operations, and for situations in which fires prevent access to facilities.

“As the climate crisis continues to raise wildfire risk, it is vital to protect inpatient health care facilities,” they wrote.

Read the study: Wildfire Threat to Inpatient Health Care Facilities in California, 2022

Read a Washington Post article: Many California hospitals are near wildfire danger zones, study says

Read a Fox News article: Wildfires may threaten inpatient health care facilities in many California counties, study says