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Improve Health and Safety of Communities and Fire Fighters Through Forecasting
and Managing Smoke From Fires
Smoke from wildland fires is a human health hazard, particularly for people
with asthma and other respiratory problems. Moreover, the fires themselves
often destroy property, damage ecosystems, and even threaten lives. Being able
to more accurately forecast the behavior of wildland fires and the smoke they
create would help public health officials protect individuals with health concerns,
allow firefighters to reduce their risk of exposure to dangerous fires and
smoke, save firefighting costs, and lessen impacts to communities and the economy.
This economic recovery project, led by Brian Potter of the USDA Forest Service’s
Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory, supplemented funding being used
to enhance the delivery of accurate smoke forecasts from wild and prescribed
fires and accelerate the development of improved tools for smoke and fire management.
One part of the project employed workers from Sonoma Technology, Inc. (STI),
who were about to be laid off when the economic recovery funding was received.
They made improvements to the BlueSky Framework, a system of computer models
that fire and smoke forecasters nationwide use to answer questions about
how much smoke a fire will generate, and where the impacts of the smoke will
the greatest. The information is delivered to fire, land, and air managers
via Google Earth images, as well as by other means, allowing rapid assessment
of where the risks to human health will be the greatest. The BlueSky Framework
is also used by researchers to simulate smoke impacts from different kinds
of fire events, improving their understanding of how to plan strategically
for future events.
The economic recovery funding also allowed a team headed
by Cliff Mass of the University of Washington’s Atmospheric Sciences
Department to ensure the daily availability of current weather information
and computer weather
simulations up to 3 days ahead. These weather simulations provide information
necessary for BlueSky smoke predictions across the Pacific Northwest. They
are also critical to research projects that aim to improve forecasts of
potentially erratic fire behavior locations and times, the chances of lightning-started
fires, and fuel moisture conditions. The economic recovery funding received
by Dr. Mass’s research group prevented four employees from being
laid off, and allowed this work to continue.
Obviously all of this work
required a whole host of technical wizards.
In addition to those working for STI and the University of Washington,
about 20 undergraduate interns through the Hispanic Colleges and Universities’ (HACU)
internship program. HACU's intern pool spans the U.S. and Puerto Rico,
providing opportunities to students from universities with substantial
Thanks to the economic recovery funds, interns and employees on this project
gained scientific and technical experience that will prepare them for future "green" jobs
targeted at improving environmental quality and dealing with a changing
These photos show work being done by one of the HACU interns in
Dr. Robert Breidenthal’s laboratory at the University
of Washington. An Intern is injecting a colored
solution into a tank
of water to simulate
of a plume of smoke during a wildfire.