As Canadian wildfire smoke reaches U.S., Dr. Alistair Hayden calls for updates to national disaster policy

Dr. Alistair Hayden, assistant professor of practice in the Department of Public and Ecosystem Health, and a former division chief at the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, has authored a policy memo on incorporating smoke waves into disaster policy. He says many more people die from wildfire smoke than from the fire itself.

“As wildfire season gets underway, it is important to remember wildfire smoke is hazardous to your health, and there are ways to protect yourself and your community from its impacts,” Hayden says. “Check the AirNow Fire and Smoke Map for the latest air quality information.”

Hayden goes on to note the impacts of wildfire smoke. “Many wildfire-smoke deaths occur during the wildfire, with recent estimates of thousands of deaths during the heaviest smoke waves,” he says. “These significant impacts, which often occur far from fire-prone areas, upend conventional ideas of who is at risk of wildfire.”

Fortunately, Hayden says that national policy is beginning to address this issue, including the recent Wildland Fire Commission report to Congress. “A good start would be to incorporate smoke waves into disaster policy so that critical funding and decision-making information reaches impacted communities and the first responders who protect them,” he says.

For those concerned on ways to protect against this season’s wildfire smoke risks, Hayden says “Individuals can protect themselves from wildfire smoke and other air pollution with air cleaners, including low-cost DIY versions.”

Additionally, “Communities can protect their residents using playbooks similar to extreme heat and cold, with a focus on the most vulnerable populations,” Hayden says.