How To Prevent Wildfire Smoke? Scientists Say More Fires May Be The Answer

Dangerous smoke from wildfires is no longer affecting just the western United States.

Thursday, July 13th 2023, 12:54 pm

By: News On 6, CBS News


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Dangerous smoke from wildfires is no longer affecting just the western United States.

Smoke from recent Canadian wildfires has reached the Midwest and East Coast this summer bringing with it a mixture of air pollutants. What can be done to prevent these kinds of events? Scientists say one way to help clear the air may be fire itself.

A new study from Harvard, the US Forest Service and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that prescribed burns, those intentionally set by fire experts under controlled conditions, could greatly reduce the overall exposure to wildfire smoke throughout the Western United States.

"Most recently, we're burning to try to mitigate the effects of wildfires. Try to reduce the size and the severity of the wildfires," said Landscape Ecologist and Professor at the University of California Santa Barbara Frank Davis.

Davis recently participated in a controlled, or "prescribed" burn at California's Sedgwick reserve.

“The wildfires burn big and hot, and they produce big smoke plumes that go long distances," Davis said, "controlled burns tend to be more local smoke plumes because they're burning small burns and they're burning them in shorter periods of time."

FOCUS ON THE WEST

“The West Coast both experience the largest smoke exposures, but also contributed most to the burden of smoke for the basically the entire West," said Makoto Kelp, the study's lead author.

He says the research team observed that the size of the burn matters.

"We find that larger prescribed burns on the order of like a thousand acres or so, may reduce smoke impacts from future large wildfires. But very few of these kinds of burns are happening in the most important areas," Kelp said.

Scientists admit there's still a lot of learn from prescribed burns but add it's one tool to help protect land and people from the dangerous effects of wildfires.

Health officials agree something must be done to minimize wildfire smoke exposure. They say it is unhealthy to breathe and can be dangerous for children, the elderly and people with respiratory conditions.

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