Abstract: Increasing fire activity and the associated degradation in air quality in the United States has been indirectly linked to human activity via climate change. In addition, direct attribution of fires to human activities may provide opportunities for near term smoke mitigation by focusing policy, management, and funding efforts on particular ignition sources.
We analyze how fires associated with human ignitions (agricultural fires and human-initiated wildfires) impact fire particulate matter under 2.5 microns (PM2.5) concentrations in the contiguous United States (CONUS) from 2003 to 2018. We find that these agricultural and human-initiated wildfires dominate fire PM2.5 in both a high fire and human ignition year (2018) and low fire and human ignition year (2003). Smoke from these human levers also makes meaningful contributions to total PM2.5 (~5-10% in 2003 and 2018). Across CONUS, these two human ignition processes account for more than 80% of the population-weighted exposure and premature deaths associated with fire PM2.5.
These findings indicate that a large portion of the smoke exposure and impacts in CONUS are from fires ignited by human activities with large mitigation potential that could be the focus of future management choices and policymaking.