Forest fires are devastating in virtually every sense of the word. They are also necessary and natural occurrences that promote new forest growth. One of the things forest fires affect the most is air quality. Fires can have a strong impact on local and regional air quality and overall population health. Widespread smoke pollution from forest fires can be a significant problem across long distances. Since forest fires spread quickly and can last weeks, air contamination from smoke is a real environmental concern. This contamination can often affect communities far from the fire. As the wind spreads the flames, so too does it disseminate the harmful smoke long distances.
How Fires Ruin Air Quality
Forest fires adversely affect air quality due to the large concentrations of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and other harmful chemicals present in the smoke. Since forest fires consume a lot of trees and brush in a short amount of time, the air quickly becomes clogged and saturated with smoke and debris. This effect on air quality, of course, has a strong impact on humans and other animals, as well as the overall environment.
Since it is well known that air pollution is a significant contributor in global warming, any condition that fosters more pollution poses a huge risk to human health and further environmental degradation. One way in which this is happening is through changing weather patterns and, more specifically, longer, hotter, and drier summers in some parts of the world. These environmental changes create conditions where wildfires are more likely and more damaging when they occur. As fires increase, so too does air pollution from the smoke. This cycle is especially concerning since forest fires can be so difficult to contain and eventually extinguish.
The Human Cost
In addition to the obvious physical destruction of the environment by a wildfire burning through thousands of acres of forest and wildlife habitat, there is a serious threat to human health and safety. From living in proximity to a fire and having your home or life threatened to respiratory problems associated with the smoke emitted from fires, forest fires seriously compromise people’s overall wellbeing. Airborne matter from forest fires can be particularly harmful since it contains very fine particulate matter and high concentrations of chemicals that can cause respiratory problems and even lead to the development of cancers over time.
Taking simple precautions like wearing a special mask filter if you are in close proximity to a forest fire and adjusting ventilation in homes and vehicles appropriately to limit breathing large concentrations of particulates is a good idea. Disposable masks and ventilators alike can both be very effective ways to keep debris from entering the lungs. Of course once a fire breaks out there is not a lot that can be done to clear the air in the short term; it takes a long time for the air to completely clear. Working to do your part of prevent the outbreak and spread of fires is the best thing to help preserve air quality.
Ben Vaughn writes on how forest fires affect air quality, fire damage, and disaster preparation tips. Ben enjoys doing what it takes to keep the environment clean and promote good health. Photo by Julia Manzerova