Winners announced for contest to build deployable device to monitor wildfire smoke

Wildland fires produce significant air pollution, posing health risks to first responders, residents in nearby areas, and downwind communities.

The existing air quality monitoring hardware is large, cumbersome, and expensive, thereby limiting the number of monitoring stations and the data that is available to help officials provide appropriate strategies to minimize smoke exposure. They can’t be easily moved to the latest areas that are being affected by wildfire smoke.

Last year the Environmental Protection Agency in association with the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and other agencies issued a Wildland Fire Sensors Challenge to spur the development of a transportable device that could measure some of the byproducts of combustion produced by vegetation fires. They offered prizes for the first and second place entries of $35,000 and $25,000.

The goal was a field-ready prototype system that could be set up near a fire that was capable of measuring constituents of smoke, including particulates, carbon monoxide, ozone, and carbon dioxide over the wide range of levels expected during wildland fires. It was to be accurate, light-weight, easy to operate, and capable of wireless data transmission, so that first responders and nearby communities have access to timely information about local air quality conditions during wildland fire events.

The winners have been announced:

Sensor Challenge Winners
EPA

Jason Gu of SenSevere/Sensit, a co-developer of the first place winning system, said they have a number of units in the field now being tested under real world conditions. They also want to install them near existing air quality monitoring stations to ensure that the data from the new design is comparable to data from the old-school stationary equipment that has been used for decades. When they are satisfied with the results, manufacturing will be the next step.

smoke monitor air quality sensors
SenSevere/Sensit

The SenSevere/Sensit unit has a battery that can last for three weeks but will have a solar panel to keep it charged. The device can transmit the data via a cellular connection or a radio. All of the sensors are made by SenSevere/Sensit. Their smoke sensor uses a blower that pulls air through a filter which removes the larger particles, and then a light beam detects the remaining very small PM2.5 particles, the ones that can be ingested deep inside a person’s lungs.

The video below has more information.

Maps: Red Flag Warnings and wildfire smoke

Red Flag Warnings are in effect in portions of eight states

red flag warnings september 12 2018
Red Flag Warnings September 12, 2018

While residents along the east coast are evacuating as a hurricane approaches, Red Flag Warnings are in effect for enhanced wildfire danger in areas of California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Colorado.

The map below is the forecast for the distribution of wildfire smoke at 5 p.m. MDT September 12, 2018.

wildfire smoke map
The forecast for the distribution of wildfire smoke at 5 p.m. MDT September 12, 2018. NOAA.

 

Forest Service: wildfire smoke is “bad for your health”

Above: The Cottonwood Fire west of Chadron, Nebraska, July 18, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The article below was written and published by the U.S. Forest Service. It seems ironic that much of the smoke described comes from fires being fought or “managed” on the agency’s lands, but this article does not address what is being done to mitigate those pollutants being generated. Or what their plans are to protect or even monitor the health of their 10,000 wildland firefighters who are chronically exposed to smoke. Their advice if smoke is a problem? Don’t go outside.


Where there’s fire there’s smoke and it’s bad for your health

By: Robert Westover
USDA Forest Service
Office of Communication
August 24, 2018

Deadly and destructive wildland fires consuming so much of the West, from California all the way to British Columbia, are not only affecting those who have had to flee but those who are downwind of these massive infernos. Smoke from this year’s summer wildfires have delayed air traffic in the Seattle area and even resulted in warnings for healthy adults to stay inside.

Smoke-related health symptoms include scratchy throat coughing, sinus inflammation, stinging eyes and runny nose and sometimes headaches. And, according to the CDC, exposure to wildland fire smoke can cause chest pain, a fast heartbeat or wheezing or bring on an asthma attack. Sometimes those with heart disease may experience chest pain, irregular heartbeats, shortness of breath and fatigue.

At one point, in early July, before the prevailing winds helped de-choke Washington state, Seattle was reported to have the worst air quality in the nation. Colorado wasn’t spared as smoke from Canadian blazes blocked the view of the Rocky Mountains throughout the Denver metro area. In the San Francisco Bay area, smoke from wildfires on Forest Service managed lands north of the bay forced authorities to issue a rare air quality advisory. They even suggested people not drive to limit additional pollutants in the air and advised those with certain health issues, like asthma, to stay inside. And in Portland, Oregon, public schools suspended outdoor sports activities.

Wildland fire smoke includes particles from not only burning trees and grasses but also chemicals from buildings mixed with gases. So if your eyes feel like they’re stinging, smoke exposure could also be inflicting other damage as particles could be getting into your respiratory system.

So what do you do to avoid health issues caused by poor quality air from wildfires?

Heed the advice of authorities and stay inside once a smoke alert has been issued. Also if you see or smell smoke from wildfire in your area or a place you plan to visit, check the national Air Quality Index website to see if you should stay inside.

Wildfire smoke map, September 6, 2018

(UPDATED at 3:50 p.m. MDT August 6, 2018)

wildfire smoke map
Forecast for the distribution of smoke from wildfires at 6 p.m. MDT September 6, 2018.

This is the forecast for the distribution of smoke from wildfires at 6 p.m. MDT September 6, 2018. Click the map to enlarge.

 

Satellite photo shows smoke from wildfires

Six states have Red Flag Warnings in effect, August 26, 2018

The NASA satellite photo above taken August 25, 2018 shows heat (in red) and smoke created by the fires in parts of California, Oregon, Nevada, and Idaho. Cloud cover in Washington and Northern Oregon made it impossible to see the fires in those areas.

Six states have Red Flag Warnings (red areas) in effect for August 26, 2018.

Red Flag Warnings,
Red Flag Warnings, August 26, 2018.

On Sunday forecasters expect wildfire smoke to be transported east or northeast in most areas.

wildfire smoke map
This is the NOAA forecast for smoke created by wildfires, for 6 p.m. MDT August 26, 2018.