USDA Forest Service

Pacific Northwest Research Station

Pacific Northwest Research Station
333 SW First Ave.
Portland, OR 97204

(503) 808-2100

US Forest Service


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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 be 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, Dr. Potter employed 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 Hispanic enrollment. 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 climate.










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 the behavior of a plume of smoke during a wildfire.

US Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Research Station
Last Modified: Tuesday,26July2016 at16:40:44CDT

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