STUDY LINKS WILDFIRE SMOKE AND COVID
A Harvard University study has found that particulate matter from wildfires is associated with an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
The study did not show that PM 2.5 caused an increase in COVID-19 cases but it cited data that shows a relationship between the two.
On average across all counties studied, a certain increase in PM 2.5 each day for 28 days was associated with an almost 12 per cent increase in COVID-19 cases and an eight per cent increase in COVID-19 deaths.
The study found the strongest association between wildfire smoke and COVID-19 increase in California’s Central Valley, near Fresno and Sacramento.
AUSTRALIA DEPLOYS RESOURCES
Following a request in late July by the United States National Interagency Firefighting Centre to Australia’s National Resource Sharing Centre (NRSC), the New South Wales Rural Fire Service deployed its 737 large airtanker to assist with several wildfires.
In addition, 55 specialist personnel from New South Wales and Western Australia were deployed to Canada to support the provinces of British Columbia and Ontario; this was at the request of the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, also liaising through the NRSC.
Deploying overseas during COVID-19 was challenging and while Australia was not able to meet all of Canada’s resource requests, the contribution was significant. The seven-week deployment included a two-week quarantine period on return to Australia.
HAZARDS RESEARCH FUNDED
On July 1, the Australian government announced the establishment of the new natural hazards and disaster research centre, with $85 million in funding to deliver research into a range of natural hazards including wildfires, floods, cyclones, storms and earthquakes.
The new centre, Natural Hazards Research Australia, continues the co-ordinated national research effort of two cooperative research centres – the Bushfire CRC and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC – over the last 18 years, and will address the major challenges arising from recent natural hazards, including the 2019-20 bushfire season in eastern Australia.
Natural Hazards Research Australia is now working closely with the Australian government to develop a strategic research agenda for Australia along with its partners in the emergency service agencies, universities, and industry. It is anticipated that many of the links made with international organizations and researchers through the two CRCs will continue into the new Centre.
GLOBAL SMOKE-RELATED FATALITIES TALLIED
Wildfire smoke causes more than 33,000 deaths a year across 43 countries, according to a global study.
Research published in Lancet Planetary Health relates short-term exposure to fine particulate matter in the air and respiratory, and cardiovascular mortality across cities and regions around the world.
The study, by an international team from the Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine in Melbourne, found that the deaths were directly attributable to wildfire pollution, across the 749 cities in the study.
Countries with the most deaths related to wildfire smoke include Japan, with more than 7,000 annual deaths in 47 cities, Mexico, more than 3,000 in 10 cities, China, more than 1,200 in 15 cities, South Africa, more than 5,200 in 52 cities, Thailand, almost 5,300 in 62 cities, and the United States, with almost 3,200 annual deaths in 210 cites relating to airborne wildfire.
The study says wildfire smoke also contributes to suicide, diabetes, renal diseases, and other conditions.
To get a better sense of the most vulnerable populations, the study authors recommend that new research include mortality data by age, gender, and other factors.
YOUTH TO HELP WITH WILDFIRE MITIGATION
Colorado is funding a team of young people, to be called the Colorado Climate Corps, to help with wildfire mitigation on public and private land.
The Climate Corps is a partnership of AmeriCorps, Serve Colorado, the Colorado Interagency Climate Team, Great Outdoors Colorado and the Colorado Youth Corps Association. AmeriCorps received about US$1 billion from the American Rescue Plan. A percentage goes to every state, and states decided how to use the money. Colorado is using its $1.7 million for the Climate Corps.
Climate Corps members must be at least 17 1/2, the minimum age for AmeriCorps service.
According to an announcement, the program will place 240 AmeriCorps members in 55 counties across Colorado to help mitigate the threat of future wildfires and floods, improve the health and resilienc of public lands, provide resource and education to marginalized communities that experience effects of climate change, and conduct energy and water weatherization and retrofitting to low-income households.
Corps members earn a living allowance, receive training that can lead to becoming wildland firefighters, and other professional development opportunities.
RESEARCHERS RECOMMEND PRESCRIBED BURNS
Prescribed burns may help researchers predict and reduce the severity of future wildfires in the western United States, according to researchers from Penn State and the U.S. Forest Service.
Alan Taylor, professor of geography and ecology and interim director of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at Penn State, told the Penn State News that prescribed fires during favorable conditions may reduce higher severity fires in the future.
“Thinking about the fire problem broadly, one of the proposed solutions is to increase the use of prescribed fire and to use wildfires burning when conditions are favorable to reduce the potential for severe canopy replacing fire over time,” Taylor said.
Researchers analyzed 106 fires, then used computer models to predict fire severity and identify the main drivers of the fires; they reported their findings in the journal Ecosphere.
The researchers found that weather and fuels had the largest impact on fire severity in non-reburns. The intensity of reburns, on the other hand, largely mirrored the intensity of the previous fire.
“Our research suggests that if you want to have good outcomes over the long-term, you want the first fire activity in these forests to be in moderate weather conditions — not so hot, not so dry, not so windy — because this will maintain lower-severity fire conditions in future reburns,” Taylor said.
“It’s really pointing us to the conditions in which we would encourage prescribed fires or wildfires to burn. These practices will help us achieve and maintain less-severe fire conditions over time.”
BRITISH COLUMBIA GRATEFUL TO MEXICAN FIREFIGHTERS
A group of 100 firefighters from Mexico returned home in early September from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, where they had been protecting communities from wildfires.
“The BC Wildfire Service wants to extend a heartfelt thank you to the 98 firefighters and three support personnel who deployed from Mexico this summer to help manage the wildfire situation in B.C.,” BC Wildfire Service wrote in a Facebook post.
The firefighters arrived July 24.
“Their work this wildfire season has been invaluable to this organization and all British Columbians affected by wildfires,” BC Wildfire said.
Mexican firefighters lived and worked in operational “bubbles,” the province said in the days preceding their arrival.
The firefighters came to B.C. through requests for out-of-province assistance made through the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC).
There were 209 wildfires burning in B.C. in early September, but there had been 1,584 wildfires since April 1.
MANITOBA THANKS SOUTH AFRICAN TEAM
The province of Manitoba has experienced its most severe wildfire season since the record-setting season of 1989. Almost 450 wildfires and more than 1.2 million hectares burned across the province this season. More than 4,000 Manitobans were evacuated from seven First Nations and three northern communities throughout the season, and two communities in eastern Manitoba remain evacuated while work is underway to restore power.
In a press release Sept. 15, the Manitoba government thanked firefighters from other jurisdictions that came to assist the Manitoba Wildfire Service, including a large contingent from South Africa, and all the local crews who have tackled one of the worst wildfire seasons in the province in recent years.
“As Manitobans, we say thank you to everyone who answered the call for assistance as wildfires raged across our province due to the extremely dry conditions this summer,” said Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard said today.
“Just as Manitoba has sent firefighting crews to help in other provinces and other countries such as Australia in 2020, this year was our time to request the support of others. South Africa will forever hold a place in the hearts of Manitobans and be remembered as an international partner that we can count on should the need arise again in the future.”
Organized through the Winnipeg-based Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, Manitoba received significant mutual aid assistance from across Canada in the form of personnel, aircraft and equipment under the CIFFC Mutual Aid Resource Sharing Agreement. Included in the support were 120 wildfire-trained military personnel, other Canadian crews and equipment, and the special contingent from South Africa.
The group of 109 men and women of the South Africa contingent arrived in Manitoba on Aug. 11 and was deployed to the large collection of fires known as the Loon Straits complex and to fires near Sherridon, Flin Flon and Snow Lake.
The minister noted these firefighters were welcomed to the communities and brought professionalism and dedication to their jobs, as well as great team spirit shown through their colourful marching, chanting and singing at Richardson International Airport in Winnipeg upon their arrival, and when moving through the communities where they were deployed.
THERAPY DOGS ARE FIREFIGHTERS’ BEST FRIENDS
A growing number of therapy dogs are stationed at wildfire base camps in California, providing firefighters with a much-needed distraction from their work
“You guys are really amazing for setting up this therapy dog thing,” said a Sept. 7 Instagram post by @firstrespondertherapydogs, quoting one firefighter.
“I sometimes feel the pressures of being over worked and sometimes it’s hard for us out here on the lie. I think wildland fire is finally understanding the depression or sadness that sometimes comes with long hours and being away from loved ones.”
A story by NBC News featured several therapy dogs at the Caldor Fire.
“Everybody loves the dogs. It doesn’t matter what’s going on. Having a dog around, you can see grown men, they turn into little kids again and get super excited,” said firefighter Ricardo Tlapala.
First Responder Therapy Dogs is a non for profit group that lends emotional support to first responders with the help of therapy dogs. Founder Heidi Carman said she and her dog Kerith see when they are tired and vulnerable.
“This one Cal Fire firefighter, she saw Kerith, and she was probably so exhausted, she just broke down and cried,” Carman said. “It was happy tears, but she was just crying and burying herself in Kerith.
“When they’re petting Kerith, they’ll tell me how they’re missing home and they’re missing their families and they’re missing their dogs.”
CREWS WRAP SEQUOIAS TO PREVENT DAMAGE FROM FIRE
California fire crews were getting the Giant Forest ready in mid-September before the KNP Complex Fire reached the famous grove of ancient trees.
Crews applying structure wrap on some of the iconic monarch sequoias that characterize the most famous area of Sequoia National Park. The wrapping can withstand high temperatures for short periods. It has been used for years to protect sensitive areas from wildfires. Crews are also removing fuel.
The complex comprised two wildfires; the Paradise Fire and the Colony Fire.