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Sustainable Idaho: Drought and Impacts of Fire

Sukhdev Singh

On last week’s episode, Eizaak and I talked about fire management as the fire season continues into late August. We learned that while fires are a natural part of the landscape and beneficial to certain species, the increase in fire season length is reason for concern. For this episode, Dr. Nick Nauslar, a fire meteorologist from the Bureau of Land Management and Dr. Creighton Hardin, a recently retired local pediatrician, agreed to talk to me more about the effects of longer fire seasons.

First, Dr. Nauslar explained further the connection between fires, drought, and climate change. As he stated, climate change affects drought and drought affects fire seasons. But if fires are natural, then should we be concerned about their impact on the environment?

Dr. Nauslar explains that forest fires can actually change the landscape, which isn’t inherently bad or good, but does impact the different species who lived there before. The climate and weather around an area that just burned down has an influence over the flora and fauna that return to the landscape. Wet conditions after a fire can also lead to debris flows, landslides, and flash flooding. As Dr. Nauslar also stated, longer fire seasons certainly impact human lives, partly because of smoke.

Dr. Hardin spoke to the effects of wildfire smoke on people’s health. Fires pose a bigger threat to people who have pre-existing conditions like asthma and heart disease. To combat health risks, Dr. Hardin recommended staying inside as much as possible if the air quality is considered moderate, or worse. But what about those living in the West without chronic respiratory or heart problems?

I asked Dr. Hardin whether fire smoke can have long term effects on those without pre-existing conditions. The answer: it seems that no one is completely safe from the effects of wildfire smoke. Dr. Hardin explained that children exposed to chronic air pollution are at risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases as they get older. In addition, pollutants from fires can cause the body’s inflammatory system to overreact, possibly leading to issues in the airways and blood vessels. But keeping up on local air quality status, staying inside when advised, and investing in an indoor air purifier are some examples of how to mitigate fire season’s health impacts.

Even though fire seasons are getting worse, Nauslar stressed a common theme I noticed over the course of these fire episodes: fire is not inherently bad. As he put it, it really depends on the fire and circumstances surrounding it such as location and intensity.

I then asked Dr. Hardin for the overall, big picture takeaway, and what his take on the drought and fire season was. He summarized this series by reiterating that climate change is affecting drought in the West. Drought, in turn, impacts our natural resources and environment. In this series, we learned that the number one priority of fire fighting agencies in dealing with fire is to protect communities and lives. High intensity fires can change landscapes and smoke can affect anyone’s health. In the end, annual fires aren’t going away anytime soon but we can each do our part to prevent human caused fires and advocate for better climate policy for a more sustainable future.

As a quick announcement, ISU’s Sustainability Club is back now that school is in session! For those interested, please email

More Information:

Idaho Fire Map

Idaho Air Quality

Ailie Maclean was born and raised in Alaska but moved to Kimberly, Idaho right before high school. Ailie is an undergraduate Political Science and Global Studies major at ISU. She is going into her last year at ISU as Vice President of Idaho State’s student government, ASISU, and has served as an Honors Program Mentor, Communications Envoy, and ASISU Supreme Court Justice in past years. In her free time she enjoys reading, longboarding, hiking, watching anime, and swimming in unique places (Silfra in Iceland for example). Ailie plans on studying environmental, or some variation of international law, after taking a gap year to travel and work abroad.