Fires in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) have become more common because of climate change and increased residential development in the WUI (Flannigan et al. 2005, Canadian Council of Forest Ministers 2006). In a WUI fire both forest fuels and structural fuels burn, creating a noxious mixture of chemicals in a firefighter’s breathing space. WUI fires vary considerably in size and complexity, and each will generate a different level of smoke hazard. On large WUI fires, numerous firefighters, emergency responders and equipment operators are deployed to support suppression efforts. Often, many responders possess limited or no knowledge of the unique smoke hazard that exists. As the frequency and extent of WUI fires increase, so does the firefighter’s exposure to a dangerous smoke environment.
Of particular concern are wildland firefighters exposed to smoke from burning buildings while working in WUI fire events. Unlike a structural firefighter, a wildland firefighter is not equipped with a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) to protect him/her from inhaling structural smoke. Although provincial agencies train wildland firefighters to recognize the hazard and avoid it when possible, many firefighters nevertheless find themselves working in these hazardous smoke conditions.
I reviewed the existing literature relating to the smoke hazard associated with forest and structural fires and the resulting health impact from exposure. This review is the second conducted by our group (Gibos 2005) and is part of our on-going mandate to monitor advances in wildfire safety.