Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences

Special Seminar

Fighting fire with smoke: prescribed burning and human health by Dr. Owen Price, Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfire, University of Wollongong


Prescribed burning is one of the main strategies for reducing the impact of wildfire in Australia and parts of the USA and Europe. However, prescribed burning produces smoke which is known to affect human health. Recent research has found that in most regions of the world, the area treated by prescribed burning is greater than the reduction in wildfire area it causes. This raises questions about the balance of risks between wildfire and prescribed fire: 1) does prescribed burning produce a higher or lower impact on human health than wildfire? 2) how can prescribed burning be managed to reduce the impact?


We have embarked on a five year program to try to answer these questions for the Sydney basin in Australia, using four approaches:

1)     Better characterisation of emissions from prescribed and wildfires;

2)     Better measurement of the spatial distribution of particulates around prescribed and wildfires;

3)     Statistical analysis of historical fire, plume and air quality measurements to develop models to predict the likely magnitude and location of pollution impacts from a prescribed or wildfire.

4)     ‘Scenario’ testing using Atmospheric Dispersion Models to explore the pollution impacts of a range of possible prescribed burning regimes across the region.

In this talk I will outline the program and present some of the early results. Among other things, these demonstrate that i) prescribed burns can have a significant effect on regional air quality; ii) current Atmospheric Dispersion Models can perform poorly at predicting prescribed fire pollution events; iii) prescribed fires produce smoke plumes that are smaller and lower in the atmosphere than wildfires (corrected for burn area).


Seminar held Thursday, May 17 from 9:00-10:00am

in 372A/B on the 3rd floor of SEEC


Please stay after to meet with Owen and other fire researchers at the University and the region.


Thursday, May 17, 2018
9:00am to 10:00am


SEEC 372