Forecasts for wildfire smoke

Above: The forecast for the maximum levels of wildfire particulate matter (PM 2.5) for August 14, 2017. Experimental product by U.S. Forest Service/BlueSky.

(Originally published at 10:40 a.m. MDT August 14, 2017)

These maps are experimental products developed by U.S. Forest Service researchers using the BlueSky modeling framework, in this case to predict the distribution of very small particulate matter (PM2.5) produced by vegetation fires. Their efforts link a variety of independent models of fire information, fuel loading, fire consumption, fire emissions, and smoke dispersion.

The map above is for Monday, August 14 and the one below is for Tuesday, August 15.

wildfire smoke pm25
The forecast for the maximum levels of wildfire particulate matter (PM 2.5) for August 15, 2017. Experimental product by U.S. Forest Service/BlueSky.

Here is information from the EPA about particulate matter:

Particulate matter contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems. Particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter [PM10] pose the greatest problems, because they can get deep into your lungs, and some may even get into your bloodstream.

Fine particles (PM2.5) are the main cause of reduced visibility (haze) in parts of the United States, including many of our treasured national parks and wilderness areas. They can only be seen with an electron microscope. Fine particles are produced from all types of combustion, including motor vehicles, power plants, residential wood burning, forest fires, agricultural burning, and some industrial processes.

BlueSky Modeling Framework

BlueSky screen grab
Screen grab from a BlueSky animation.

The U.S. Forest Service has developed a system called BlueSky Modeling Framework using multiple models that when combined in various configurations can enable:

  • the lookup of fuels information from fuel maps
  • the calculation of total and hourly fire consumption based on fuel loadings and weather information
  • the calculation of speciated emissions (such as CO2 or PM2.5) from a fire
  • the calculation of vertical plume profiles produced by a fire
  • the calculation of likely trajectories of smoke parcels given off by a fire
  • the calculation of downstream smoke concentrations.

The image above is a screen grab from a Beta website of an animation of a 3-hour running average of PM 2.5 using modeled fires. (Don’t ask me to explain it any further than that!)

More information about the system is HERE. You can configure your own animation at THIS SITE.

Wildfire news, November 4, 2011

Another view of Minnesota’s Pagami Creek fire

We have devoted a lot of “ink” to the Pagami Creek fire that burned over 92,000 acres in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in September. The U.S. Forest Service has received much criticism for their decision to only manage it, rather than suppress it, not expecting the wind events that pushed the fire dozens of miles to the east and south.

Taking a view that differs from many others that have been expressed publicly is Rod Sando, a former commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Here is an excerpt from an article he wrote for the Star Tribune:

…When the Pagami Creek fire started, the decision was made to allow it to burn. It was located well inside the wilderness, and it was unlikely under normal conditions that it would travel outside the wilderness boundary.

That, of course, changed with the very unusual weather, which caused the fire to completely change its character. The probability of this was extremely low, and the actions taken before Sept. 10 were prudent and within the usual assessment of risk.

One significant fact that should be understood is that when a fire has extreme behavior, as in the case of the Pagami Creek fire, it is nearly impossible to control. The only alternative is to let it run its course and get out of the way.

It also needs to be appreciated that predicting fire behavior is one of the most complex and difficult tasks land managers must face. Even with good weather forecasts, it is still very difficult to predict how fire will behave.

Meanwhile, the long-term benefits of the Pagami Creek fire (and others in the future) will enhance the values of the BWCA. It may not seem so at the moment, but restoring fire to the system in this fashion is the best alternative if long-term ecological integrity is to be protected.


It is important that we support the managers who have the courage to take the risks necessary to use fire to manage the land rather than second-guessing their decisions.

The official review of the fire will help everyone assess what was done, and I expect it to show that the Forest Service operated in a competent and professional manner. To continue with blame and recrimination at this point is counterproductive.

Will suggestions for improvement emerge? You can count on it.

The lessons learned from this fire will certainly strengthen the program, and we should have confidence that the next time this occurs (which could be as long as 100 years from now), it will be managed as well or better.

My thanks to the Forest Service for doing the best that it could under very difficult circumstances.

Evacuating horses during a fire storm

The wildfires of October, 2007 in southern California required over 1,000,000 people to evacuate, destroyed at least 1,500 homes, and burned 500,000 acres. An article at the Horse Channel describes the plight of Micaela Myers, a horse owner that struggled to relocate two horses that were in the path of one of the fires.

IAWF Managers Award for Relevant Research

Sean RaffuseThe International Association of Wildland Fire presented the IAWF Managers Award for Relevant Research to Sean Raffuse of Sonoma Technology, Inc., at the Ninth Symposium of Fire and Forest Meterology in Palm Springs, California in October. Mr. Raffuse and his team developed BlueSky Playground: Interactive Smoke Modeling on the Web. Here is a link to a recording of his presentation, and an abstract is below:

As standards for particulate pollution continue to tighten, land managers that approve or conduct prescribed burns must manage smoke production carefully to minimize smoke impacts in sensitive areas. BlueSky Playground is an interactive, web-based tool for exploring smoke emissions and resulting downwind smoke concentrations from wild and prescribed fires. It connects to state-of-the-science models within the BlueSky Framework, providing access to powerful modeling tools in an easy-to-use interface. BlueSky Playground is freely available and requires no login to access the core features. BlueSky Playground has recently been expanded to provide more useful tools for prescribed burn planning and is part of the Wildland Fire Decision Support System Air Quality suite (WFDSS-AQ). We will demonstrate BlueSky Playground and show how it can be used in both wild and prescribed burn analyses.

Comments on articles here at Wildfire Today

We moderate the comments our readers leave on the articles at Wildfire Today. One of the reasons we do this is because we receive an average of 10 comments a day from spam robots and others that want to promote their nefarious web sites or get rich quick schemes. They leave a generic comment, but include their web site address in the space provided. Many of these are written by people for whom English is not their first language. Here is an example you might enjoy that apparently originated from someone wanting to promote a web site hosting company in Thailand:

What i don’t understood is in fact how you’re now not actually a lot more smartly-liked than you may be now. You are so intelligent. You realize therefore considerably on the subject of this matter, produced me individually believe it from so many varied angles. Its like men and women aren’t involved except it is something to do with Woman Gaga! Your individual stuffs excellent. At all times care for it up!

Yes, this individual from Thailand found me out! Woman Gaga is the inspiration for Wildfire Today!

New smoke forecasting system unveiled for western Canada

smoke forecasting system western Canada
This is a screen grab from the Western Canada BlueSky Smoke Forecasting System

With all the problems caused by the extremely dense wildfire smoke in Russia, it is timely that the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia have unveiled a new system for predicting where and in what concentrations wildfire smoke will occur.

When you visit the BC Air Quality web site an animation will begin. If there are no major fires burning, it may be difficult to see anything happening, but if you increase the Play Speed, it will become more obvious. The software is called Western Canada BlueSky Smoke Forecasting System and cost $95,000 to develop.