Living With Fire And Smoke Case Study

Smoke is an ongoing issue when it comes to wildfires as it’s difficult to control how much smoke is produced and where it goes. This case study looks into some of the issues related to smoke and smoke management.

View the text version of the Living With Fire And Smoke Case Study. View the Living with Fire and Smoke Reference Library.

Living With Fire And Smoke Case Study

Smoke is an ongoing issue when it comes to wildfires as it’s difficult to control how much smoke is produced and where it goes. This case study looks into some of the issues related to smoke and smoke management.

View the multimedia version of the Living With Fire And Smoke Case Study. (Flash required.)

View the Living with Fire and Smoke Reference Library.

Cast of Characters:

Paige Albright, Reporter
Voice: Roberta D'Amico, NPS
Picture: Roberta D'Amico, NPS

Vanessa Granger, Information Officer
Voice: Venetia Gempler, FWS
Picture: Venetia Gempler, FWS

Jeanne Whitman, Area Resident
Voice: Kymberly Amar, NPS
Picture: Jeanette Butler, NPS

Joe Mila, Area Resident
Voice: Dale Miracle, NPS (ret.)
Picture: Dale Miracle, NPS (ret.)

Buck Ross, Fire Management Officer
Voice: Dan Buckley, NPS
Picture: Dan Buckley, NPS

Troy Rivers, Area Resident
Voice: Russ Rivera, Student
Picture: Russ Rivera, Student

Deana Talbot, Local Business Owner
Voice: Christine Wilson, NPS
Picture: Christine Wilson, NPS

Bobby Hurt, Local Business Owner
Voice: Louis Hurst, Student Conservation Association
Picture: Louis Hurst, Student Conservation Association

Emily Bailey, Nurse
Voice: Tina Boehle, NPS
Picture: Tina Boehle, NPS

Rick Barr, Scientist
Voice: Dick Bahr, NPS
Picture: Dick Bahr, NPS

Mark Schulz, Air Regulator
Voice: Rich Schwab, NPS
Picture: Ken Frederick, BLM

Mike Vanacker, Prescribed Fire Specialist
Voice: Mike Van Hemelryck, NPS
Picture: Mike Van Hemelryck, NPS


Reporter: I'm standing here in what used to be a thick forest in Glacier National Park. Devastating fire has burned 10,000 acres. Damage control is already beginning, but full recovery will take a long time.

Information Officer: Fire serves an essential role and has positive effects on the environment.

Area Resident: I don't see how any of this could be good for the environment. [coughs]

Reporter: Everyone struggles to catch a fresh breath; while the fire burns, the smoke filled sky impacts the air quality and economy of this community.


Reporter: It’s been one year since the smoke cleared. Nature has befun to reawaken. Over this past year I've learned more about fire’s role in forested communities and will share what I have found in this four-part series, “Living with Fire and Smoke.”

PART II Fire: The Benefits and Effects

Area Resident: When I was a kid, if a fire hit, a truck would come around and pick us all up to help put it out. The forestes are overgrown now because of all the fires we put out.

On Screen: In the early 20th century wildfires were fought by the entire community without any special equipment.

Reporter: Controlling fires changed the environment. In the 1800’s, fire burned naturally, regulating forest growth. In the past we did not have the resouces to stop fires, but there was less overgrowth as a result of these uncontrolled fires.

Fire Management Officer: Today, there is so much growth of some plants and trees that it’s crowding out other native vegetation that use to flourish here. For centuries, Native Americans set fires and lightning also started fires that helped keep the growth in check. But early in the last century, the direction was to put all fires out and the forest we see today are a result of overgrowth.

Reporter: Fire can be a part of what makes a forest healthy, but more and more people are moving to forested areas and may see fire as a nuisance and a threat.

Area Resident: I know the forests need fire to control the rate of growth, but these fires are burning bigger than they did when I was a kid and my house has nearly burned a couple times; not to mention haing to breathe all the smoke.

Reporter: Tune in to our next segment as we explore the issues local citizens face with smoke and what you can do to protect yourself.

PART III: Understanding Smoke’s Effects

Reporter: Smoke from wildland fire usually poses no immediate danger when air circulation is good, but during periods of inversions, it can be a health risk to those exposed on a daily basis, especially people with risk factors such as asthma, heart disease or other cardio-pulmonary conditions.

On Screen : An inversion occure when the layer of air near the ground is cooler than an air layer above it trapping smoke, making the atmosphere hazy and unhealthy.

Local Business Owner: My busiest time is during the fire season. Smoke means fewer customers and my business drops. I worry about having to lay off employees.

Local Business Owner: I depend on tourist for business. Often vacations are cancelled because of smoke and this place can look like a ghost town.

Local Business Owner: Negative publicity keeps people away too. The public needs to know about health issues but as long as the media refers to fires as catastrophes we'll continue to lose business.

Reporter: There are other effect of smoke, like vehicle accidents because of decreased visibility, but the biggest concern still is breathing all this smoke and the threat of smoke causes many tourists to avoid these areas.

Nurse: Whether it’s smoke from a wildland fire or the increased use of woodstoves in the winter, I see a good amount of patients for smoke exposure. To minimize the effects, just stay indoors, get rest and drink plenty of fluids. The effects of short-term exposure to smoke usually clear up when the smoke is gone.

Reporter: Signs of smoke irritation include itchy eyes, headache, sore throat, runny nose and coughing. Children, the elderly, smokers and people with pre-existing illnesses are more sensitive to smoke.

Nurse: The Park informs the public when a prescribed fire is scheduled, but I wish they would provide more information about how to avoid smoke, so they don't have to visit the doctor’s office. Even knowing in advance when to close the windows in the house and limit outdoors activities can reduce exposure.

Reporter: Despite the health risk to humans, smoke encourages some plant growth.

Scientist: Some plants' seeds will only begin to grow in the presence of fire.

Reporter: Although smoke can be a nuisance and inconvenience for humans, it is a product of fire, which is necessary for a healthy forest.

PART IV: Planning and Cooperation

Reporter: To keep our forests healthy, officials must continue to conduct prescribed fires and appropriately mange lightning fires, but these fires are going to impact the people living here.

On Screen : Prescribed fire is ignited by an agency to improve or maintain habitat and used to eliminate hazardous fuels, such as dead fallen trees. Lighting-ignited fires may be actively managed to to benefit the land.

Fire Management Officer: If there’s a wildfire near town, it will be suppressed and even under the best conditions it will produce a good deal of smoke. Also burning certain types of vegetation or dead trees can cause even heavier smoke and weather can either cause smoke to linger or diperse.

Reporter: It is the job of the Air Regulator to monitor and forecast the air quality, while the Prescribed Fire Specialist waits for the perfect conditions or "window" to ignite a prescribed fire.

Air Regulator: At the Air Quality District we watch air quality and work with others to keep the air healthy to breathe. If air pollution levels are too high, we work with the Park to find the appropriate times to ignite a prescribed fire so that smoke will disperse and impacts are minimized.

Prescribed Fire Specialist: Before lighting a prescribed fire we check monitoring equipment and weather and air quality forecasts. We look at temperature, humidity and wind. With the correct conditions, you might not even see smoke from a prescribed fire.

Reporter: All wildland fire are closely monitored. The saftey of the community and firefighters are the main concerns in managing these fires.

Fire Management Officer: For wildland fires we work immediately to minimize the smoke and get the smoke message out to the public.

Information Officer: Last summer we had a list of people who we knew could be more affected by the smoke from a wildland fire. We called them daily with updated and will do the same for anyone in the same situation.

PART V: Life in a FIREWISE Community

Reporter: What is the future of forests and the people that live here?

Fire Management Officer: We hope to have the forests as they were a century ago when there was a regular cycle of fire. It will take some time bu we believe we can do it with skilled application and use of fire.

Area Resident: I know forests depend on fire, but it can be a problem and I don't want to lost everything I've built. But fire is as much a part of the community as I am, and that’s why I began using FIREWISE practices.

Reporter: What are FIREWISE practices?

Area Resident: To FIREWISE my property I make sure the pine needles are swept from my roof every spring and I don't have any trees and shrubs righ up against my house. I also make sure firetrucks will be able to find my house by posting my house number out near the road; and that firetrucks can safely get in and out of my driveway.

Reporter: Today, more people than ever before call forests like these home. The fires that once kept the forest healthy are now a concern for residents that live here. But it is clear that fires are a necessary part of a forest and these forest communities must become FIREWISE for both to survive.

Reporter: Thanks for joining us for “Living with Fire and Smoke.” As you've heard over the course of these reports, there are different perspectives. However, fire and smoke are a part of this community, which can be lived with safely so that both the forest and the people living in it benefit.

Reporter: To learn more, go to our website where we have organized a reference library with information about fire, smoke, air quality and FIREWISE.

Text On Screen: Visit our reference library to learn more about wildland fire, smoke, air quality, and FIREWISE.