The Impact of Wildfires on Climate and Air Quality


Are trying to get the upper hand When my saying any hand on a bunch of fires burning up and down California, it is a horrendous fight. The Bobcats Fire in the Angeles National Forest, The Eldorado fire in the San Bernardino National Forest, You know, the one that began with a gender reveal party, the creek fire in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where there have been dramatic evacuations. Containment in those fires is small and the battle is heroic. But I don't have to tell you that large swaths of the state and the West Coast are burning. You can probably see it in the air. As in the air. You and I are breathing. Maybe you're wondering like me What's in that air and is it putting you in any danger? Rachel Becker is an environmental reporter for Cal matters. And she's here with some answers. Rachel. Hi around sunset Yesterday I took a drive up PCH. Ah, the son was hazed out. The sun actually had bands. I could look directly at it. And it looked like Jupiter. I remember thinking to myself. Oh, my God, that looks like a planet, not a star. I'm seeing picture after picture today of San Francisco, doused in this glowing orange color and other places, too. What is in that smoky air? It's it is unearthly. Ah, and what we're seeing is when a wildfire burns through vegetation. It turns out these fine airborne particle pollution, sewage. It turns out soot that can irritate the lungs and have been linked to hurt and lung problems. Premature death. There are also gases like carbon monoxide, cancer causing chemicals. That mix into this smoke cloud as well. It really creates this kind of toxic soup that can change depending on what is burning and how hot it's burning and as those chemicals kind of stew in the atmosphere, they keep reacting, so they break apart. They joined together and they make new ingredients that people can inhale and that can harm people's lungs. On then, on top of that, there are also burning cars and buildings. And while those make up a smaller fraction of the smoke that people far from the fires in hell, they could present a health risk to the people right up close fighting those fires. Yeah, A lot of the firefighters are dealing with with with terrible situations. I know that this is a very basic question. A primary question. If if I don't smell the smoke, does that mean that the air is okay? Not necessarily. There still could be fine. Ah, airborne particles what you're smelling and isn't necessarily reflecting what the health risk could be. So you know when we talk about smoking here, quality if it comes down to, as you say, particulate matter, On Dure talking about suit. You're talking about the fine particles that you can inhale and and those particles get lodged in your lungs right? And they can and those particles Khun do like a lot of damage to your body, talk a little bit about that in the dangers of that and what we conducive to help ourselves. Yet researchers have found increases in emergency room visits for heart problems for breathing problems. There were reports of increased risk from stroke during wildfire smoke events. Eso it's It's definitely a health risk, and if people can, they should stay away from it. Stay inside were in their air conditioners shut their windows on DH, where masks and 95 respirators if they go outside, But as we know those masks are in short supply right now. On people coping with the heat may not be able to afford running their air conditioners right now, or they're they may be using air conditioners that suck in air from the outside. There are also folks farm workers who are working outside right now, so not every Californian may be able to keep themselves as safe as they need, Teo. That's that sounds bleak. It is bleak, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of also warned that wildfire smoke can increase susceptibility to lung infections, including the novel Corona virus. We have people who are evacuating being forced by circumstances into close proximity, which can increase the risk of the Corona virus spreading. I talked to. Ah, mother and daughter, who were evacuating one of the Lightning sparked fires at the end of August. And they said the choice of whether to evacuate and be around other people or stay in their homes and risk burning was A pretty clear one to make, you know. They told me we're going to catch on fire and we're going to be dead or we're going to go someplace where there's more than eight people. You know, we keep seeing that wildfire season gets longer and longer. I mean shoot. Most of California isn't fire season all year round. It seems like especially in the drought years of of late. When you keep breathing in the terrible air fromthe wildfires that keep happening over and over again Over the course of years and years when you see that, you know the research that's out there. Obviously your body takes a big hit, right? It can't be good for you. Yeah. I mean, this is a climate change story. You know, a collision of crises we can expect to see more of climate change is worsening wildfires. It's making it hotter. And as a result of that, and our continued reliance on fossil fuels, our air is going to get dirtier. It's this kind of vicious spiral that's caught Californians and isn't letting go and lower income Californians are going to be hit especially hard. You mentioned climate change. Obviously, we just came off of it. I mean, record breaking hot weekend where temperatures exceeded 100. 20 in Woodland Hills and some other parts of greater L A. I mean, Ah, Heat exacerbates this for sure. And we're getting hotter, right? Yeah, yeah, We're definitely getting hotter. With climate change and and heat. Khun basically stew, the toxic soup of air pollution from the air can become stagnant. It can trap pollutants and make an increased surface levels of smog. On. That's in addition to all of the particulates and smoke we have in the air, so we're really seeing a combination of pollutants and risks for people out there breathing this Rachel

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