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Occup Environ Med 69:158-162 doi:10.1136/oem.2010.064238
  • Environment
  • Original article

Forest fires are associated with elevated mortality in a dense urban setting

  1. Klea Katsouyanni
  1. Department of Hygiene, Epidemiology and Medical Statistics, Medical School, University of Athens, Athens, Greece
  1. Correspondence to Antonis Analitis, Department of Hygiene, Epidemiology and Medical Statistics, Medical School, University of Athens, 75, Mikras Asias Street, 115 27 Athens, Greece; aanalit{at}med.uoa.gr
  • Accepted 30 June 2011
  • Published Online First 17 August 2011

Abstract

Objectives The climate and vegetation of the greater Athens area (population over three million) make forest fires a real threat to the environment during the summer. A few studies have reported the adverse health effects of forest fires, mainly using morbidity outcomes. The authors investigated the short-term effects of forest fires on non-accidental mortality in the population of Athens, Greece, during 1998–2004.

Methods The authors used generalised additive models to investigate the effect of forest fires on daily mortality, adjusting for time trend and meteorological variables, taking into account air pollution as measured from fixed monitors. Forest fires were classified by size according to the area burnt.

Results Small fires do not have an effect on mortality. Medium sized fires are associated with an increase of 4.9% (95% CI 0.3% to 9.6%) in the daily total number of deaths, 6.0% (95% CI −0.3% to 12.6%) in the number of cardiovascular deaths and 16.2% (95% CI 1.3% to 33.4%) in the number of respiratory deaths. Cardiovascular effects are larger in those aged <75 years, while respiratory effects are larger in older people. The corresponding effects of the one large fire are: 49.7% (95% CI 37.2% to 63.4%), 60.6% (95% CI 43.1% to 80.3%) and 92.0% (95% CI 47.5% to 150.0%). These effects cannot be completely explained by an increase in ambient particle concentrations.

Conclusion Forest fires have an immediate effect on mortality, not associated with accidental deaths, which is a significant public health problem, especially if the fire occurs near a densely populated area.

Footnotes

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.