According to scientists, during extinguishing fires, smoke and ash and dangerous fungi and bacteria can rise into the atmosphere. Science publishes research results.

According to a recently published study, dark, swirling puffs of smoke can carry countless living bacteria that can enter the lungs or “cling” to the skin. Researchers fear that airborne pathogens could cause illness in firefighters or residents on the leeward side.

Smoke contains trillions of bacteria that were not previously considered in the understanding of human health. The variety of microbes we’ve found is truly mind-boggling.

Leda Kobziar, director of wildfire science at the University of Idaho

According to scientists, smoke from forest fires currently accounts for up to half of all fine particle pollution in the western United States. Although there are many studies on the long-term health effects of urban air pollution and short-term exposure to smoke from forest fires, fires’ long-term effects have been considered.

Scientists believe that some microbes survive and even multiply in forest fires when heat scorches the ground and leaves behind a carbon layer that protects bacteria in the ground. Others survive in the air because particles from forest fires can absorb the sun’s deadly ultraviolet radiation. Some disputes are spread by wind currents caused by fire.

Aerosol germs, spores, or fungal conidia can travel hundreds of kilometers, depending on the fire and atmospheric conditions’ behavior, and are eventually deposited or inhaled downwind of the fire.

However, it was difficult to determine which pathogens existed in forest fire smoke.

Scientists suggest taking into account several factors:

  • what kind of fuel is burning (for example, grass, bushes or trees);
  • how much it was originally;
  • how bad the fire was (whether the forest was “burnt” or completely reduced to ash)
  • direction of smoke.

As part of the study, scientists using a drone captured air samples over Idaho during wildfires in Eastern Washington and Oregon. Even a couple of hundred kilometers from the fire source, the content of pathogens – fungi and bacteria – in the smoke was enormous.