Researchers enrolling moms and moms-to-be in wildfire study


Bio-Specimen Assessment of Fire Effects (B-SAFE) Study aims to reveal how wildfires affect the health of pregnant women and their babies

Pregnant woman and child


Researchers from the UC Davis Environmental Health Sciences Center are conducting the Bio-Specimen and Fire Effects (B-SAFE) Study to learn how recent wildfires and their smoke are affecting pregnant women and their babies.

"Very little is known about the health impacts wildfires have during pregnancy,” says Rebecca J. Schmidt, the lead scientist for the study and an assistant professor in Public Health Sciences at UC Davis. 

The B-SAFE Study has been ongoing since the 2017 North Bay wildfires. Researchers are currently enrolling women who were pregnant and living in Northern California when:

  • The Camp Fire struck on November 8, 2018 or shortly after 
  • The Kincade Fire struck on October 23, 2019 or shortly after

Researchers are studying how wildfires are affecting women's health across their pregnancy.  Schmidt says the study team is enrolling women early in pregnancy so they can complete up to two visits before delivery. The research team is also enrolling postpartum women to see how their health changes after delivery. 

“Our goal is to collect information and biological samples that can help us understand what women were exposed to and how that exposure affected them and their babies over time,” says Schmidt.

Participants fill out a survey providing information to help researchers better understand what they were exposed to and how they were affected, including whether they evacuated or wore a mask, and what symptoms they experienced before and after the fire. The survey takes about 40 to 60 minutes to complete.

Women have the option of participating in specimen collection by providing hair, toenails, saliva and nasal swabs via mail, or if they live within two hours driving distance of Sacramento, for researchers to make a home visit to collect blood, breast milk and urine samples. 

Women who agree to a home visit and provide bio-specimens for the study are compensated.

Research map
This map shows the Northern California counties that fall into Arm A and Arm B of the B-SAFE study.

Urban wildfires

The 2018 Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history, killing 88 and burning almost 150,000 acres and 19,000 structures. It came fast on the heels of the previous year’s devastating wildfires in Northern California, which also affected Butte County.

Two years after the North Bay wildfires, the Kincade Fire took place destroying over 77,000 acres and 374 structures in Sonoma County. Burning almost the same footprint as the 2017 Tubbs Fire, the Kincade Fire was a reminder that climate change is increasing the frequency of wildfires across the state.

These recent wildfires spread rapidly and blanketed most of Northern California with smoke for weeks, creating air quality so hazardous people stayed indoors for days on end. With climate change, these types of wildfires are expected to grow, burning bigger and hotter each year.

Experts say recent wildfires in Northern California are particularly concerning because they took place in urban areas where thousands of structures made of synthetic materials burned. The chemical composition of the smoke and ash from these urban wildfires could be potentially more toxic than grassland or forest fires.

The B-SAFE study is part of a larger effort by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to better understand and respond to wildfires and other environmental disasters. The UC Davis Environmental Health Sciences Center is currently conducting several research projects on wildfires funded by the NIEHS.