Best of the States

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AP: Smoke from US wildfires boosting health risk for millions

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After last year’s deadly wildfires in California brought weeks of sooty skies to cities along the West Coast, the AP decided to take a closer look into the broader impacts of the massive smoke plumes.

Billings, Montana, correspondent and environment team member Matthew Brown teamed with Denver video journalist P. Solomon Banda to produce an all-formats report on the growing public health threat from wildfire smoke.

Brown was able to draw from a growing body of research that points to where smoke impacts will be worst – a broad swath of the West that includes more than 300 counties with tens of millions of people.

By talking with doctors and health experts in communities inundated with smoke last year, he was able to connect the scientists’ projections with health problems already hitting vulnerable populations.

He also tracked down a San Francisco family whose children have breathing problems. The family described their unsuccessful efforts to find protective masks and an adequate air filter to shield the children from smoke produced by a fire about 150 miles away,and how they temporarily fled the city in search of clean air.

Banda interviewed scientists and a health official in Colorado while video journalist Terry Chea in San Francisco interviewed the family. The package also featured photos by Eric Risberg in San Francisco and Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska.

The report was a hit with customers,landing on 15 front pages in the West,including the The Mercury News,the Marin Independent Journal and The Denver Post, while the video saw numerous downloads.

For diligent reporting that provided a deeper look into how wildfires affect communities throughout the region, Brown and Banda earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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