We have known for a long time that smoke from wildfires can be harmful to humans, but in recent years that knowledge base has increased significantly. And it may have reached a new level with research conducted by fire ecologist Leda Kobziar. After learning that some snow machines use bacteria as condensation nuclei, she started to wonder if bacteria was a component of smoke. Using petri dishes and drones she collected air and smoke samples at a prescribed fire.
Below is an excerpt from an article at KQED.org:
…Then they compared what was collected to the contents of ambient (non-smoky) air. They sampled for abundance and diversity by culturing colonies and analyzing DNA.
Turns out a surprising amount and diversity of bacterial cells and fungal spores gets lofted into wildfire smoke during a fire. The more severe the burn, the more cells it transports. This is a newly emerging area of research, but Kobziar thinks these microbes have the potential to affect human health.
“There are numerous allergens that we’ve found in the smoke. And so it may be that some people who are sensitive to smoke have that sensitivity, not only because of the particulate matter and the smoke, but also because there are some biological organisms in it.” … Possibly, she says, wildfire smoke has been a driving factor in the global distribution of microbial life.
“We think that the role that wildland fire is playing in transporting organisms through smoke has probably had some influence on the evolution of species as well and development of communities,” Kobziar said.
Let’s be careful out there.