Research indicates that wildfire smoke may distribute microbial life

That may be what causes allergic reactions in some people who are sensitive to smoke

smoke wildfires Utah and Colorado
Satellite photo at 5:37 p.m. MDT Sept. 13, 2018 showing smoke from wildfires in Utah and Colorado.

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.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

One thought on “Research indicates that wildfire smoke may distribute microbial life”

  1. Bill, Thanks for ever relevant & timely reporting and updates!

    The due reduction of lingering wildland fires in difficult to access areas, lessens need for prescribed fires. The former mentioned is now contractually possible By people setting aside significant portions of the billi0ns spent on holidays, can secure those essential prior contracts. What a lasting gift to Firefighters – and all others (trees and wildlife too)- that will be!

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