How Far Can Wildfire Smoke Travel?

Smoke from wildfires is a serious health concern. So questions often come up: How far can wildfire smoke travel? Can someone in New York be affected from the California wildfires thousands of miles away? Do Australian bushfires affect the entire country?

During the ravaging California wildfires in September of 2020, some in New York City were wondering this exact question. Could this smoke be from the wildfires out west?

As it turns out, it was! Satellite images confirmed the smoke traveled across the entire country to New York.

As we can see, wildfire smoke can travel quite far. But what determines how far it travels? Does it typically travel this far? Let’s dive in further into how far wildfire smoke can travel.

First, How High Does Wildfire Smoke Go?

The first question to figure out how far wildfire smoke can travel is to know how high the smoke can get in our atmosphere. Why? Well the higher smoke gets in the atmosphere, the farther it can travel! 

As a wildfire burns, large amounts of smoke are launched into the air. The stronger the wildfire, the higher the smoke reaches in the atmosphere. The higher the smoke reaches, the farther the smoke can travel. 

In some cases, this smoke can form an explosive storm cloud called Pyrocumulonimbus. These explosive clouds can launch the smoke even higher, reaching over 5 miles above the surface of the earth into the stratosphere.

Wildfire smoke can reach the stratosphere

So How Far Can Wildfire Smoke Travel?

Smoke trapped at lower altitudes are far less likely to travel more than a few hundred miles. This smoke typically only affects the surrounding local communities near the fire. 

But larger, more powerful wildfires can launch smoke to far higher altitudes. This can result in smoke traveling thousands of miles in the earth’s stratosphere. In fact, astronauts have captured this from space!

Smoke from California’s wildfires has traveled thousands of miles

How Far Does Wildfire Smoke Travel?

At any moment, changes in weather patterns can move this dangerous smoke back down to the earth’s surface, affecting air quality thousands of miles away from the original wildfire. 

Read More: How Do Wildfires Affect Air Quality Levels?

As seen below, heavy smoke from California wildfires on the West Coast can make its way all the way to the East Coast. Bushfires in Australia can also easily travel to all parts of the country.

California wildfires reach east coast

California Wildfires Reach as Far as the Netherlands

Wildfires are truly a global problem. Smoke from California’s destructive wildfires of September 2020 was seen from satellite images all the way in Europe and the Netherlands.

How far does wildfire smoke travel? California to Europe!

Read More: 3 Tips to Protect Yourself From Wildfire Smoke

Bottom Line: How far can wildfire smoke travel?

The short answer: far! Smoke from powerful wildfires can get pushed up into the earth’s stratosphere, and from there can travel around the world! Wildfire smoke from California has been seen from satellites over the Netherlands.

Smart Air

Wildfire smoke contains dangerous PM2.5 pollutants that are a huge hazard to our health. It’s essential that we understand the danger PM2.5 air pollution poses to our bodies so that we may better protect ourselves from wildfire smoke and air pollution.

WATCH: 5 Things You Should Know about PM2.5 Air Pollution

5 Things You Should Know about PM2.5 Air Pollution


How I Protect Myself Against Wildfires

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Smart Air provides empirically backed, no-nonsense purifiers and masks, that remove the same particles as the big companies for a fraction of the cost. Only corporations benefit when clean air is a luxury.

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Read More: 3 Steps to Protecting Yourself From Wildfire Smoke


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Smart Air is a social enterprise that creates simple, no-nonsense air purifiers and provides free education to protect people’s health from the effects of air pollution. We are proud to be the only certified B-Corp dedicated to fighting air pollution.