Questions for ‘Wildfire smoke seeds the air with potentially dangerous microbes’

smoke billows above a wildfire in California

Smoke billows from the Apple Fire in Cherry Valley, Calif., on August 1, 2020. Such wildfires can shoot flames, smoke — and microbes — high into the air. Scientists are now trying to measure how much such fires contribute to the spreading of infectious disease.

David McNew/Getty Images

To accompany “Wildfire smoke seeds the air with potentially dangerous microbes


Before Reading:

1.  What would be the first worries you had if you learned a wildfire was heading toward your town?    

2.  What risks beyond losing your home or possessions would you worry about? 

During Reading:

1.  What is Valley fever and what causes it? Where has it been showing up, and what group of people is at high risk for it?

2.  What health concerns have been linked to wildfire smoke?  

3.  What does it mean that wildfires can create their own weather?  

4.  What is pyroaerobiology? Who gave the field that name — and when?

5.  Where and under what conditions can you find microbes in the air?  

6.  Where do airborne microbes come from, according to the story? 

7.  How did Leda Kobziar and her team first start collecting smoke-borne microbes?

8.  How do they collect them now? How frequently do they find microbes in smoky air?

9.  What kinds of tests do researchers perform to identify which microbes are present in smoky air?

10.  In Utah, Kobziar and the FASMEE team found how many different fungi in the air after the fire (but not before)?  

11.  Their Utah sampling also found many of the microbes appear very tough. What was one sign of how robust those smoke-ferried fungi and bacteria were?

12.  How do the types of microbes in smoky air vary by season and geography, according to the story?

After Reading:

1.  This story refers to many health risks associated with wildfire smoke. List at least four and put them in the order of most concerning to least concerning. Explain why you chose that particular ordering. For instance, was it affected by your age, where you live or your underlying health? Was it affected by people who are close to you or pets and livestock?

2.  The story points out that many important questions remain unanswered about the importance of wildfire-lofted microbes. Which are the three most important ones to you? Explain your reasons.