Mason Scientists Sound 'Wake-up Call' on Virginia’s Wildfires


Page, Shenandoah County wildfires a warning to prepare for more frequent future disasters

group of scientists from George Mason University’s College of Science are calling the Page and Shenandoah County wildfires a “wake-up call” for Virginia and the Eastern Seaboard that heralds the increasing threat of wildfire to the region as the climate continues to change.

Wildfires that are a regular occurrence in the western United States will become more frequent in the east in the decades to come, they warn.

“There have been few wildfires in Virginia over the last two decades, but the risk of wildfires has been increasing due to extreme weather and climate events caused by climate change,” said John Qu, director of Mason’s Environmental Science and Technology Center.

In the case of the Page and Shenandoah County wildfires, “swift actions from emergency managers and first responders, complemented by fortunate rainfall, helped dodge a dire outcome,” said Alireza Ermagun, director of the Mobility Observatory and Data Analytics Lab and an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Geoinformation Science.

Nevertheless, “the fires brought severe air pollution to northwestern Virginia,” said Daniel Tong, associate professor of atmospheric chemistry and aerosols in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences.

The scientists said this alarm bell points to the need for building resilience, solidifying emergency preparedness, and planning for evacuation, particularly for vulnerable populations including those with disabilities or without private transportation. Early detection measures will help, as will making the population more aware of this increasing threat.

The Mason scientists who are available for comment on wildfire, including in Virginia, include:

Daniel Tong—air quality observations and predictions (wildfires, dust storms and aerosol effects)

Daniel Tong, an associate professor of atmospheric chemistry and aerosols in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences within Mason’s College of Science, works closely with NASA’s Health and Air Quality Applied Sciences Team, and leads a NASA-funded effort to improve the country’s dust forecasting capabilities. His atmospheric modeling tools were tapped to better understand the recent Canadian wildfires and their impact on air quality across the United States. By plugging real-time satellite data into a complex model of Earth’s atmosphere—one that accounts for site-specific variables like soil type, wind speed, and how Earth’s surface interacts with winds—the system churns out hourly forecasts that can even predict dust storms up to three days in advance.

Alireza Ermagun—vulnerable populations, emergency preparedness

Alireza Ermagun, the Director of the Mobility Observatory and Data Analytics Lab and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Geoinformation Science at George Mason University, is at the forefront of creating safer futures for wildfire-prone communities in California. By developing a practice-ready framework, he addresses the urgent evacuation and sheltering needs of disadvantaged communities when wildfires erupt. His NSF-sponsored project, “Snuff It Out: Extinguishing the Disparity of Access to Shelters for Disadvantaged Communities in Wildfire-Prone Areas,” marks a significant leap forward in his commitment. Collaborating closely with local emergency preparedness and law enforcement officials, Ermagun’s work is setting new standards in optimizing wildfire responses. This project is not just about immediate relief; it is about embedding equity into wildfire preparedness strategies, offering a model for resilience that communities across America facing similar threats can replicate.

John Qu—early warning systems, forestry–wildfire nexus

John Qu is a professor of Geography and Geoinformation Science at Mason and Mason Institute of Sustainable Earth Fellow. He serves as the director of the Environment Science and Technology Center (ESTC) ( and served as the funding director of the EastFIRE Lab from 2005 to 2013. He focuses his research on wildland fires, land, water, and atmospheric environmental remote sensing, and also collaborates with international partners. His efforts to develop integrated early warning and decision-support systems for sustainable Water-Energy-Food-Health (WEFH) Nexus are already underway, including projects to support the NOAA Atmospheric Temperature Climate Data Record from POES Microwave Sounders to JPSS/ATMS, NOAA; the Africa Soil Moisture Monitoring and Applications with WMO, and assessing impacts of large wildland fires with USDA/FS.

About George Mason University

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls more than 40,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity, and commitment to accessibility. In 2023, the University launched Mason Now: Power the Possible, a one-billion-dollar comprehensive campaign to support student success, research, innovation, community, and stewardship.