Why Smoke is Worse than Fire

By Delaney Shiu

Everyone has been hearing about all the natural disasters occurring in the U.S. recently – historic flooding, major hurricanes, and unforgiving wildfires. We all have tendencies to focus on one major problem until the next one comes along, which is why everyone is talking about California wildfires right now instead of the problems that many people who live in Houston are still facing and will be faced with for years to come. In a few weeks, something else will happen, and we will move on from conversing about the wildfires, which is why I want to take the time while we’re all still focused on the topic to talk about how they might be causing more damage to the state than we can see.

Even though the fire itself is extremely destructive, the main problem that the Californians will be facing is the smoke, ash, and debris left over from the fire. Most people who are killed in wildfires die from smoke inhalation rather than from the fire itself. Inhaling carbon monoxide decreases the body’s oxygen supply, and even people who survive wildfires are often faced with health problems for years depending on how long they were breathing in the low-quality air. Most of the time, the people who develop prolonged health problems because of a fire are ones who are particularly sensitive to air quality, such as people with asthma or heart disease.

Right now, health officials are most concerned about the levels of PM2.5 in the air. PM2.5 is made up of very small pieces of liquids and solids that are no more than 2.5 micrometers across. Since PM2.5 particles are so small, they can be easily inhaled and transferred into the body’s bloodstream through the lungs and alveolar sacs. Good-quality air has no more than a dozen micrograms of PM2.5s per cubic meter of air. Once the level reaches about 55 PM2.5s per cubic meter, people with diseases such as asthma begin to notice, but most healthy people wouldn’t. Above 55 PM2.5s per cubic meter, anybody outside would begin to notice and breathing would become difficult. Once you reach the level of 100 PM2.5s per cubic meter, everybody outside would feel their eyes and throat sting as they walked around. Recently, there was a reading of about 137 PM2.5s per cubic meter in Californian air affected by the wildfires, and that was 50 miles away from the actual fire. Using this data, we can clearly see why the fire is causing more problems in California than just the destruction of property.

Unfortunately, since the majority of us reading this article are stuck in Waco, Texas, there isn’t anything we can physically go out and do to help the people who are suffering in California. However, there are other ways to help. The Salvation Army and American Red Cross are the two organizations that most often deal with natural disasters such as this one, and could always use monetary donations. There is also a GoFundMe page that is gaining popularity and is going towards helping the victims of the wildfires. Californian agencies such as the Napa Valley Community Foundation and Northern California Fire Fund are also accepting monetary donations and serve particular parts of California.

It is no secret that the state that contributes the most students to the Baylor community, other than Texas, is California. We hope that the wildfires come to an end soon and that the air quality continues to improve consistently so everyone is able to return home safely, whenever that may be.


Delaney Shiu is a freshman in the BIC.