A dry and dangerous wildfire season is already beginning in the western United States. Drought-stricken for many years, the region experienced a dry winter and warm early Spring this year, further straining the water supply. In addition to being drier than last year’s record-shattering fire season, another factor impacting wildland fire response this year is anticipated staffing shortages.
Now more than ever, it is important to protect the wildland firefighting workforce from smoke exposure to ensure safe and effective responses to wildfires this season.
The National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s (NWCG) “6 Minutes for Safety” outlines the hazards of wildland fire smoke exposure and stresses the importance of always being on the lookout for opportunities to reduce exposure.
Wildland fire smoke is a complex mix of chemicals and particles, which varies depending on fuels, soil, weather, fire intensity and the burning phase of the fire. The smoke contains carbon monoxide, fine particulate matter that can penetrate deep into the lungs, and a variety of harmful chemicals such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
The NWCG also cites COVID‑19 as a compounding risk to wildland firefighters. Studies show that wildfire smoke can lead to an increased susceptibility to respiratory infections, including pneumonia. Severity of infections or symptoms may increase due to respiratory tract immune responses to smoke exposure.