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An evaluation of wildland fire smoke sensors

October, 2017 to October, 2019

In the US, wildland fires are a recurring, episodic source of air pollution that can be a major threat to public health. Limiting exposure is the principal measure available to mitigate health impacts during smoke episodes. State and local agencies depend on real-time observations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from air quality monitoring stations to minimize exposure risk to the public. Smoke from wildfires often impacts rural area in the west, where the sparsity of air quality monitoring stations, complex terrain, and mountain meteorology can result in significant heterogeneity in air pollution levels across communities, presenting a significant impediment to public health officials’ efforts to mitigate health impacts. Led by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), several federal agencies have partnered to advance air measurement technology to be easier to deploy, suitable to use for high concentrations observed during wildland fire events, durable to withstand difficult field conditions, and report data continuously and wirelessly. This effort, the Wildland Fire Sensor Challenge, is focused on cost effective, easily deployable sensors capable of measuring PM2.5 and CO over a wide range of concentrations that may impact local and regional communities.

Eventual commercial –scale production of the sensors will enable land management agencies public health officials, and air quality managers to rapidly deploy dense smoke monitoring networks during wildfire events. These on-demand networks will directly benefit public health by providing timely, accurate information on pollutants levels to guide the exposure mitigation efforts of public health officials and improve smoke forecasts. The observation networks will support health researchers studying the impact of smoke exposure on public health and provide data for the validation and improvement of smoke emission and dispersion models.

Testing of prototype air quality sensors in burn chamber
Testing of prototype air quality sensors in burn chamber


Evaluation at USFS Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory – Large Scale Combustion Chamber

Prototype smoke sensors were arrayed in the combustion chamber, triangulated by Federal Reference Method PM2.5 and CO monitors

Sensors and reference monitors were exposed to varied levels of smoke produced by flaming and smoldering combustion of ponderosa pine needles and fine woody debris 33 one hour tests were conducted with mean concentration ranges of PM2.5 30 – 1800 µg m-3 and CO 0.4 – 15.8 ppm

Key Findings

Based on the April 2018 evaluation, three promising sensors were identified for additional testing during Phase II in April, 2019.

National Strategic Program Areas: 
Wildland Fire and Fuels
RMRS Science Program Areas: 
Fire, Fuel and Smoke
RMRS Strategic Priorities: 
Fire Sciences
Project Contact: 

Principal Investigators:
Matt Landis - US EPA
Russell Long - US EPA

Jenny Perth - USFS National Technology and Development Center

Research Staff: