PORTLAND, Ore. September 15, 2003. Smoke from planned fires and
wildfires affects air quality and visibility. Firefighters, forest
managers, farmers, motorists, and people with respiratory problems
all need accurate and timely information regarding smoke and visibility
when fires burn. BlueSkyRAINS is a technology that allows fire
professionals and ordinary citizens to coordinate outdoor activities
around fire operations. It is currently being used daily by incident
command teams for about 100 wildfires in the Western States.
“When smoke is generated from a wildland fire, BlueSkyRAINS helps people
to determine where the smoke will go and how much of a problem it may be for
breathing and visibility,” explains Sue Ferguson, an atmospheric scientist
based in at the Pacific Northwest (PNW) Research Station and developer of the
modeling system. “BlueSkyRAINS is a technology that allows you to go to
one centralized Web site to see the potential accumulation of smoke from planned
fires and wildfires. It shows the patterns of predicted smoke concentrations
in relation to cities, hospitals, schools, parks, or other elements of interest.”
Ferguson, based in Seattle at PNW Research Station’s Pacific Wildland
Fire Sciences Laboratory, says her team of scientists began work on this technology
in 2000. By 2002 the first prototype was up and running. The first tests began
with the Quartz Mountain wildfire complex in the Pasayton Wilderness of the
Okanogan National Forest in Washington’s northern Cascades.
“We worked with smoke managers, burn bosses, and air regulators for many
years prior to developing BlueSkyRAINS,” Ferguson says. “As wildfires
became larger and more frequent and the use of prescribed fire increased, smoke
became an increasingly difficult problem. Smoke doesn’t know about fences
making it difficult to coordinate across land ownerships. So we came up with
the idea of a centralized, automated system.”
The BlueSkyRAINS was created by Ferguson and her team by partnering
with the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal, state,
tribal, and local agencies that share concerns about clean air
and healthy forests.
“This summer we worked directly with incident command teams on several
wildfires in Washington, Idaho, Montana, and New Mexico. Now we’re gearing
up to help with the prescribed fire season. This is the first technology that
allows everyone to see where planned fires and wildfires are and to see the potential
impacts of smoke from those fires,” says Ferguson.
Check out the BlueSkyRAINS system at www.blueskyrains.org.