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An air quality monitoring station near a wildfire

An air quality monitoring station near a wildfire. Photo courtesy of Andrea Holland-Sears.

Smoke from wildland fire is a significant source of air pollution emanating from National Forest lands. It can pose potential risks to health, visibility, safety, and general nuisance problems. Forest managers, fire managers, and air resource specialists must address these issues when and where appropriate to minimize smoke impacts to public health and welfare.

National Forest lands contain ecosystems that have substantially departed from natural fire regimes. . Decades of aggressive wildfire suppression and other land use practices have given rise to ecosystems with unnaturally heavy fuel accumulations and the proliferation of invasive exotic species both of which have more recently contributed to unnaturally large and severe wildfires. Large wildfires produce more smoke and air pollution annually than prescribed fires. Nationally, the restoration of fire-adapted ecosystems to effectively lessen the likelihood of large wildfires is a high priority.

Monitoring Smoke

Public exposure to smoke is a concern because a large proportion of wildland fire smoke emissions is fine particulate matter (PM2.5) that can penetrate to the deepest parts of the lungs. Before igniting a prescribed fire, managers must identify smoke-sensitive areas such as communities, hospitals, highways and areas already in nonattainment for particulate matter or ozone, and use appropriate mitigation and evaluation techniques to minimize smoke impacts. Weather, climate, and air quality monitoring data are used by fire managers to customize smoke management techniques as needed. These data can also help local health departments alert citizens about the effects of smoke and where it may travel.

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