In an article in The Conversation, Wildfires can poison drinking water – here’s how communities can be better prepared, two scholars from Purdue University examined the 2018 Camp Fire and 2017 Tubbs Fire in California and described how wildfires can severely degrade water quality by introducing high levels of hazardous substances into water systems. The authors noted that hazardous chemicals from several sources, including burned vegetation and plastics, can make their way into water systems following a wildfire. They observed that pressure losses from pipe breaks may have drawn gases into the water system through hydrants and that firefighters can inadvertently spread contaminated water through a system as they pull water from the system.
The article recommends mitigation measures such as the use of concrete meter boxes and the installation of backflow prevention devices, which prevent substances from damaged buildings from being drawn into water systems. It also recommends using do not use orders until systems can be tested, noting that many filters cannot remove hazardous chemicals and that boiling contaminated water can release contaminants into the air.