When firefighters battle wildfires, they face intense heat and fast-moving flames. But the risks don’t end there. They can also inhale large amounts of smoke, which contains a mix of potentially dangerous chemicals and pollutants. Wildfire researcher Kathleen Navarro tracks firefighters’ smoke exposure to find ways to help keep them safe.
Navarro, who works for the U.S. Forest Service, heads into the field with firefighters throughout the West, armed with tools to measure the airborne toxins they encounter. She also studies how smoke affects residential communities near wildfires. She spoke with Science World about what she’s learned working in the midst of these massive infernos.