Rapid Response Workshop: Smoke, Health & Fire
Sep 2, 2020
With wildfires still raging across California and other Western states, smoke has been darkening the skies and wafting across the country, a public health threat scientists have been linking to a long list of health concerns — including respiratory infections like influenza and the novel coronavirus.
Climate Central and the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) held an online workshop on September 1, 2020, to help journalists and meteorologists cover wildfires and public health risks from smoke pollution, a threat that has grown more severe during the COVID pandemic.
Main topics covered by the panel included:
- The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the ways firefighters, meteorologists, and emergency management personnel respond to wildfires this season, hampering teamwork and communication.
- Fires caused by lightning strikes on land parched by drought have burned over a million acres in California this year, a record-setting pace, harming air quality and creating short- and long-term public health risks.
- Climate change is contributing to lengthening wildfires season, with hotter and drier weather drying out of landscapes, fueling more and larger fires.
- Wildfire smoke contains PM2.5 particles which can get deep into lungs, triggering and exacerbating health risks including asthma and heart attacks. Panelists discussed research showing exposure to smoke increases influenza risks the following winter, and concerns that a similar pattern may hold true for COVID-19.
- Research underway globally has been showing that various types of pollution can affect COVID-19 risks.
- Outdoor workers can be heavily affected by smoke pollution, and frequently work in hot, crowded and polluted conditions with few or no legal workplace protections.
- Darren Clabo, South Dakota State Fire Meteorologist, Incident Meteorologist @SDFireWeather
- Rob Mayeda, Meteorologist, NBC Bay Area @RobMayeda
- John Abatzoglou, Associate Professor, University of California, Merced @climate_guy
- Erin Landguth, Associate Professor, School of Public and Community Health Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula @erinlandguth
- Colleen Reid, Assistant Professor of Geography, University of Colorado, Boulder
- Felix Nance, Emergency Management Director, Hominy, Oklahoma @FelixANance
- Lucas Zucker, Policy and Communications Director for the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) @LucasZucker
- Kat Snow, Science editor at KQED in the San Francisco Bay Area @CosmologicalKat
Resources for Covering Wildfire and Health Impacts
- National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook produced by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho
- SciLine has a fact sheet and experts ready to talk about wildfires and Climate Signals has materials on climate change and wildfires
- The National Interagency Fire Center has overseen the drafting of plans for nine geographic regions to help guide effective wildfire responses during the COVID pandemic
- Planning for Wildfire: Tips for creating 360-character Wireless Emergency Alert templates
- Cal Fire keeps summaries and statistics on wildfires in California and its Ready for Wildfire page has preparation advice. The California Air Resources Board has compiled a Wildfire Smoke Guide.
- Firewise USA® is a voluntary program that provides a framework to help neighbors get organized, find direction, and take action to increase the ignition resistance of their homes and community
- The U.S. Drought Monitor map is released every Thursday, showing parts of the U.S. that are in varying levels of drought, from abnormally dry to exceptional. Other fire and smoke maps include: the San Francisco Chronicle CA Fire Map and the California Smoke Information Map.
- The CDC advises how to protect yourself from wildfire smoke and has updated information on wildfire smoke during the COVID-19 pandemic
- AirNow, a partnership of multiple government agencies has a number of publications on wildfire smoke and air quality, and a wildfire and smoke tracking map
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