Vegetation and peatland fires cause poor air quality and thousands of premature deaths across densely populated regions in Equatorial Asia. Strong El-Niño and positive Indian Ocean Dipole conditions are associated with an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in Indonesia and Borneo, enhancing population exposure to hazardous concentrations of smoke and air pollutants. Here we investigate the impact on air quality and population exposure of wildfires in Equatorial Asia during Fall 2015, which were the largest over the past two decades. We performed high-resolution simulations using the Weather Research and Forecasting model with Chemistry based on a new fire emission product. The model captures the spatio-temporal variability of extreme pollution episodes relative to space- and ground-based observations and allows for identification of pollution sources and transport over Equatorial Asia. We calculate that high particulate matter concentrations from fires during Fall 2015 were responsible for persistent exposure of 69 million people to unhealthy air quality conditions. Short-term exposure to this pollution may have caused 11,880 (6,153-17,270) excess mortalities. Results from this research provide decision-relevant information to policy makers regarding the impact of land use changes and human driven deforestation on fire frequency and population exposure to degraded air quality.