EPA compares impact of prescribed fire and wildfire

A new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report concludes that while a prescribed fire can reduce the overall size of futures wildfire and associated smoke emissions and smoke-related emissions and make smoke-related health impacts, there are still risks.

The “Comparative Assessment of the Impacts of Prescribed Fire Versus Wildfire (CAIF): a case study in the Western United State” report, found that smoke is still emitted and can have both air quality and public health impacts at a much smaller scale compared to a wildfire.

Over the past two decades, the number of acres burned annually due to wildfires in the U.S. has doubled, causing adverse health impacts ranging from eye and respiratory tract irritation to bronchitis, exacerbation of asthma and heart failure and even premature death. The Sept.30 report also noted that some populations may be at increased risk of health effects due to wildfire smoke exposure, among them children, older adults and people with pre-existing heart and lung disease.

Prescribed fire is a land management tool that can reduce the likelihood of catastrophic wildfires by strengthening an area’s ecosystems and reducing the buildup of unwanted fuels.

Still, prescribed fire is a planned event and with coordination and advance notification communities and individuals can take health protective actions to reduce exposure, according to the report compiled by the EPA in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Interior and National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The EPA was asked in January 2020 by the Wildland Fire Leadership Council to assess air quality and health impacts of smoke from prescribed fire compared to wildfire. 

More information on the report is online at  https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/risk/recordisplay.cfm?deid=352824