What’s the environmental impact of fires? It sounds like a fairly simply question, but finding quantifiable answers isn’t quite so easy.
Yes, we know that fighting structure fires often requires an average of hundreds of gallons of water, generating run-off that includes toxins released from byproducts of burned household items, and that those toxins are also released directly into the atmosphere. But knowing how to accurately measure and quantify fire’s environmental impact from these and related factors has yet to be identified.
Through its Environmental Impact of Fire project, the Fire Protection Research Foundation is working to figure all that out. Phase One of the project, which was recently completed, serves as a gap analysis/literature review that documents the data and methodologies currently available to measure environmental impact of fires primarily in structures, but looks at Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) fires as well. The report also reviews cost-benefit, risk-based and life-cycle methodologies, examining the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Phase Two of the project will start to fill knowledge gaps, while the project’s final goal is to quantify the actual environmental impact of a single fire, as well as fires over a period of time.
Ultimately, the findings from the Environmental Impact of Fire project will help better quantify the immediate and direct costs of fire, providing a metric for understanding the social and economic impact of fire and for assessing progress in fire prevention and protection.