Paradise Wildfires | Atmospheric Effects
A few months back, we wrote a blog regarding the Kilauea Volcano. The volcanic explosion caused the evacuation of over 700 homes, 1,700 residents, and the destruction of over 12 square miles. Unfortunately, the United States has experienced yet another natural disaster recently, this time on the mainland. I’m talking of course about the Paradise Wildfire, or Camp Fire.
Luckily, the Kilauea Volcano eruption was one that scientists and public officials were anticipating. It happened over the course of months, allotting them time to plan and strategize. While many were uprooted and forced to move, the volcanic explosion caused no death or injury. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for the Paradise Wildfire. Mother nature doesn’t always announce her plans.
Paradise was the worst wildfire in California’s recorded history, causing at least 86 fatalities. Environmental damage, as well as urban damage, reached heights that many of us could never imagine. Although the fire is now 100% contained, there are still effects and impacts that are not 100% understood.
The immediate physical effects of the wildfire have been seen by anyone watching the news or browsing the internet. Burning at intense heat and spreading at a mind-boggling rate, footage of the fire and its aftermath looked very much like hell on earth.
The fire blazed an area of 153,336 acres and spread as far as New York. As you may have guessed, this can have detrimental effects on human health and the environment. This is due to the chemicals and smoke put into the air.
Wildfires release large amounts of CO2 and ozone precursors into the atmosphere. These emissions affect radiation, clouds, and climate. Wildfires also emit substantial amounts of volatile and semi-volatile organic materials and nitrogen oxides that form ozone and organic particulate matter. Direct emissions of pollutants can affect those in the immediate area, as well as those in the surrounding area. In addition, the formation of other pollutants as the air is transported can lead to harmful exposures.
Depending on the materials burned in the fire, the range of chemicals found in this smoke can vary greatly. While the immediate concern in a natural disaster such as this is human and animal life, there are other things that must be taken into account.
The majority of scientists claim that the bulk of Camp Fire’s particulate matter and pollution were washed away with the first .5 inches of rain that hit the overall area. This only applies to the atmospheric pollution, however. While rain removes these chemicals out of the air and as a hazard to human health, it doesn’t remove them from the environment all together. Once worked into the water cycle, these elements can still cause damage to structural objects such as metals.
Depending on the types of pollutants that were released into the air during the Paradise Wildfire, those in the immediate and surround area of California blaze may want to keep an eye on any exposed metals. Over the course of the next few months (and depending on temperature levels, as well as humidity levels) we could see corrosive after effects.
If Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) and Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) were released into the atmosphere as a result of the fire, those compounds continue to exist somewhere in the environment. It’s more than likely that if they were released, it’s not at levels anywhere near where they’d have adverse effects on human health. On the other hand, we’ll have to wait and see if structural materials such as metals begin to see changes.
We here at Intercept have those whose loved ones were affected by this tragedy in our prayers. It’s around this time that we all come to value what’s truly most important: friends and family. We wish you all a safe and happy holiday season.