New research on 2017 North Bay wildfires

Wildfire burning through forest.

Researchers from the Environmental Health Sciences Center (EHSC) are working with Northern California communities to study the impact smoke and burned debris have had on survivors of the fires that swept through Napa, Sonoma and other counties in October and November of 2017.

These fires were unique because they burned manmade structures, which scientists believe could have an impact on the health of people differently than “natural” wildfires that burn trees, grass and other plants.

“We know what [natural] wildfire smoke is composed of, but we have no idea what will be in this. We expect it to be very different,” says Keith Bein, a researcher at the UC Davis Air Quality Research Center.

WHAT NOW California: A study in urban wildfires

EHSC’s study is called “Wildfires and Health: Assessing the Toll in NOrthWest California” (WHAT NOW California). Leading the research team is Irva Hertz-Picciotto, director of EHSC and a professor of public health sciences at UC Davis. About a dozen other scientists are involved in the study with Hertz-Picciotto.

​EHSC scientists are collecting samples of air and ash from affected areas in Northern California, and also gathering information about residents’ experiences during and in the immediate aftermath of the fires through online and door-to-door surveys.

UC Davis students and staff are conducting the door-to-door portion of the survey from mid-November to mid-December, 2018 in Napa County to provide a random sample for scientists to compare with the online data they collect. 

Scientists are also enrolling new moms and moms-to-be in a study to better understand the health impact on pregnant women and children.

In collecting this data, EHSC and its scientists hope to accomplish several things:

  • Understand how people are affected by exposure to smoke and combustion of chemicals in urban wildfires
  • Protect the public’s health during the recovery in Northern California
  • Prevent health problems related to wildfires 

WHAT NOW California receives funding from the UC Davis Environmental Health Sciences Center, which is sponsored by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.