Wildfire Smoke More Deadly Than the Wildfires

From The Conversation….

“In a new study published in the journal Science Advances, we found that wildfire smoke likely contributed to more than 52,000 premature deaths across California alone from 2008 to 2018, with an economic impact from the deaths of more than US$430 billion.”

11 thoughts on “Wildfire Smoke More Deadly Than the Wildfires”

  1. So pleased to see this highlighted. A group of us have highlighted that “Smoke is Also a Killer” over the last few years in the “…A Call to Action.” Anyone who needs a copy of this comprehensive document, we will send you a 2-page Summary that includes so much information with hyperlinks to illustrate this National Emergency we are faced with: Destructive Wildfires due to the lack of Forest Maintenance over the last 30+ years. Please: First, Put Out the Fire!

  2. I hate to always be the skeptic, but..
    “To conduct this analysis, we looked at annual estimates of wildfire smoke PM2.5 by ZIP code based on wildfire activity. Unlike most past studies, we looked specifically at exposure to PM2.5 from wildfires. This allowed us to account for that potentially increased toxicity of smoke.

    Then, we used a dose-response estimate for the relationship between wildfire-specific air pollution and premature deaths. Dose-response estimates are derived from epidemiological studies that relate air pollution levels to survival. For this study, we adjusted an existing dose-response estimate to account for potential increased toxicity from wildfire smoke.”

    Seem like a lot of correlating and estimating and adjusting to me. What is the question? How does wildfire smoke affect human health? It’s not good. I think we knew that. Interesting questions..might include “prescribed fire vs. managed fire (no buildings) vs. wild wildfires?”. “are there ways to decrease exposure for wildfire fighters?”. It seems to me that this is another “study for headlines sake.”

    • Hi Sharon: I agree that this study is faulty, although conclusions may be useful as a starting point for a more refined study, as you suggest. I cited this study in my recent editorial, but tried with some difficulty to find more detailed analysis before doing so. This seems to be the best that’s out there at this time — and there certainly does seem to be a direct relationship between wildfire smoke and human health and longevity is some populations.

      Personally, I don’t think there’s any difference between “managed fire” and “wild wildfire” smoke, but a well-defined research project measuring prescribed fire vs. wildfire (including “managed”) smoke would be good. A prescribed fire has a prepared site and a planned ignition pattern; a so-called “managed fire” is a wildfire that is being observed and sometimes even enhanced, based on documentation.

  3. No, smoke kills. That’s clear. So, keep fires small. Let’s not overthink this. Smoke is also a killer. It’s not about headlines. It’s about caring for and protecting people’s lives.

  4. Good Heavens folks, let’s get to reality a bit; fire, whether wild (and all the managed/used/let it burn) fire, or Rx fires will cause smoke! Degree and locations can be modeled using HYSPLIT dispersion. For those not familiar, it was actually designed after 9/11 for potential biological attack. It does quite well for volcanic ash, and “super” for modeling smoke. The FS needs to use this more; I did as a ranger and as a Rx burn practitioner. There is some pushback on FS employees because – well, they don’t like to. I finally got to where I would not approve a burn unless it had a HYSPLIT run accompanying the go/no go decision. Best available science, you know….

    Use of smoke monitors also help; a great public affairs group is invaluable, and community follow-up completes the need to inform. As for dangers of smoke, stay out of it!

  5. Respectfully, I believe we are so overthinking this. The following is taken from A Call to Action, Revision 17.9, page 16:

    “…Although it may not be as obvious as a raging inferno, smoke from wildfires is also a killer. In the United States, mortality attributable to wildfire smoke is expected to triple between now and the end of the Century – from as much as 25,000 to about 75,000 deaths per year. More conservative estimates show this range to be from about 15,000 to 44,000 annual deaths.

    According to the US Climate and Health Alliance, “…wildfire smoke is primarily made of carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, hydrocarbons and other organic chemicals, nitrogen oxides, and many other trace elements. Smoke composition can vary, depending on the fuel type, fire temperature, and wind conditions. Of these pollutants, “particulate matter [PM] is the most concerning, given their very small size and ability to be inhaled deeply into the lungs.” According to the Environmental Protection Agency, numerous scientific studies have linked long-term PM2.5 [also called particle pollution] exposure to a variety of problems, including:
     Cancer.
     Stroke.
     Irregular heartbeat and heart attacks.
     Respiratory problems, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.
     Suicide risk in rural counties.

    People with asthma, heart or lung diseases, children and older adults are the most likely to be affected by particle pollution exposure. Research is also showing that smoke from wildfires is also causing significant harm to skin health, accelerating skin aging and skin cancers.

    According to atmospheric researchers, led by a team from Yale and Harvard, ‘The scope of the problem is immense: Over the next three decades, more than 300 counties in the West will see more severe smoke waves from wildfires, sometimes lasting weeks longer than in years past.’ An obvious and immediate concern should be the vulnerability of the first responders, our wildland firefighters…”

    Okay, nothing new. We know this.

    Wilent’s article title is, “Wildfire Smoke More Deadly Than the Wildfires.” That’s absolutely true, by a large factor. To the people who have died due to smoke-related issues, I doubt they will be concerned about “wildfire” vs. “Rx Fire” smoke. And we should not either. Our concern should be amounts of smoke. This means, at the very minimum, put wildfires out immediately. For the foreseeable future [well, at least mine], the concept of “managed” or “beneficial” fire seems cruel and ruthless, knowing what we now know.

    And yes, smoke from Rx Fire is still smoke and we must be very judicious to ensure, at a very minimum, the “net” amount of smoke is reduced in restorative actions. It should then be obvious, that mechanical treatments are crucial in terms of effective forest maintenance.

    I wish we would just accept the fact that smoke from forest [and forests are more than just trees] fires is deadly. It kills far more people each year than directly from wildfire [smoke being mostly indirect]. In the recent study by UCLA, it was concluded that about 10,000 people per year have died from smoke related health issues during the last decade in California alone. That’s a lot. So, anything we do to prolong a wildfire, or an Rx Fire is crazy; completely careless.

    My beloved USDA Forest Service is also saying that if we use “managed” fire, then eventually wildfires will be smaller, thus less smoke. In shorthand, “managed” fire equals less smoke. OMgosh, what ever happened to common sense?

    For now, just “First, Put Out the Fire!” PLEASE.

    Very respectfully,

  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9076366/
    “Prescribed and managed fire can reduce the severity and extent [25] of subsequent wildfires [142, 143], emissions from prescribed and managed fires are much lower, and their smoke dispersion and direction can be more effectively managed, compared with megafires [11].” This and other things I’ve read tell me that planned burning would save lives.

    • Jon: Once again we are in agreement. Prescribed burning would save lives from smoke, and save millions of wildlife from being burned alive, prepare a location for future generations, and create a buffer against future wildfires. “Managed” fires are typically used as an excuse for not immediately extinguishing a wildfire, therefore producing far more smoke and mortality than if simply extinguished and maybe repurposed for the future.

  7. Rx Fire is planned burning. “Managed” wildfire, with the current conditions in the west, especially, is a crap shoot. First, put out the fire.

  8. Jon, with all due respect to the authors of the paper you cited, I don’t think anyone can say that managed fires categorically have less smoke than wildfires. “emissions from prescribed and managed fires are much lower”. Let’s do a thought experiment, would we expect more smoke from a wildfire of 500 acres or a big box managed fire of 9000? It seems to me it depends on the fuel conditions and how the fire is burning and how many acres burn under what conditions, not the intentions of the suppression folks. The models that Jim Z. talks about might have helpful info.

    • I don’t think they said “categorically” or would disagree with your example. I don’t know if this is the way it’s really done, but when you are thinking about starting or encouraging a fire, you can and should take into account the kind emissions you’re going to get under the conditions you’ve got.


Leave a Comment

Discover more from The Smokey Wire : National Forest News and Views

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading