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Smoke 101 and differences between wildfire and prescribed fire smoke in the western U.S.

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An often-overheard phrase, “there is no future without smoke,” describes fire, and associated smoke, as an ecological process inextricably tied to Western forests. While fire can provide many benefits such as reducing fuels and renewing forests, smoke from fires poses a serious challenge to public health, land managers, and air quality regulators. So, can we reduce these challenges?

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Wildfire smoke: Knowns and unknowns

Webinar recording.

Topic: Wildfire Smoke and Human Health – The Knowns and the Unknowns
Presenter: Sarah Henderson
How does wildfire smoke affect our health? Learn about what’s in wildfire smoke, the impacts on health, the evidence gaps, and effective health protection strategies. Presented by Dr. Sarah Henderson, Scientific Director of Environmental Health Services at BCCDC and of the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health (NCCEH), and Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia School of Population & Public Health.

Topic: Smoke Forecast Models – Making Informed Decisions
Presenter: Brian Wiens
Explore smoke forecast models with Brian Wiens, to increase your understanding of how they work and discover how to utilize these models to make informed decisions about your health.

Smoky scene

Wildfire smoke and smoke forecast models

Webinar registration.

Topic: Wildfire Smoke and Human Health – The Knowns and the Unknowns
Dr. Sarah Henderson
How does wildfire smoke affect our health? Learn about what’s in wildfire smoke, the impacts on health, the evidence gaps, and effective health protection strategies. Presented by Dr. Sarah Henderson, Scientific Director of Environmental Health Services at BCCDC and of the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health (NCCEH), and Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia School of Population & Public Health.

Topic: Smoke Forecast Models – Making Informed Decisions
Brian Wiens
Explore smoke forecast models with Brian Wiens, to increase your understanding of how they work and discover how to utilize these models to make informed decisions about your health.

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An experiment in co-producing fire and smoke science

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n early October 2023, nearly fifty research scientists and technicians collaborating with the USDA Forest Service-sponsored Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment (FASMEE) gathered on the Fishlake National Forest to collect measurements from a rare stand-replacing prescribed fire. Developing new approaches to predict fire and smoke behavior, scientists representing the USDA Forest Service, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Tall Timbers, Desert Research Institute, and universities from across the country, partnered to collect fire-related data from belowground to space. These synergistic research projects characterized fuels, measured radiant heat and energy, evaluated smoke concentrations, and documented fire effects on vegetation and even bats.

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Social vulnerability in US communities affected by wildfire smoke, 2011-2021

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During the 2011-to-2021 study period, increases in the number of days of heavy smoke were observed in communities representing 87.3% of the US population, with notably large increases in communities characterized by racial or ethnic minority status, limited English proficiency, lower educational attainment, and crowded housing conditions.

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Prescribed burns as a tool to mitigate future wildfire smoke exposures

Webinar recording.

Catastrophic wildfires in the western United States pose significant risks to public health, infrastructure, and ecosystems. As these wildfires become more frequent, there is a growing need for a common methodology to identify suitable locations for prescribed burning aimed at mitigating future wildfire impacts to affected populations and ecosystems. This presentation explores the use of atmospheric chemistry transport modeling, satellite observations, and data from land managers to assess the effectiveness of prescribed burning interventions in reducing potential future wildfire smoke exposure. The presenter will offer lessons for states and rural environmental justice communities through a discussion on how implementing preventative prescribed burns in heavily forested areas such as Northern California and the Pacific Northwest may yield substantial net benefits for air quality across the entire western US, while similar interventions in other states would result in comparatively smaller impacts.

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State of the science: Smoke

Webinar recording.

Science to support the Wildfire Crisis Strategy
Land management-focused panel discussion with smoke experts
Hosted by the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station

 

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Rx burns as a tool to mitigate future wildfire smoke exposure

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The West Coast both experiences the largest smoke exposures and contributes most to the burden of smoke PM2.5 in the western US. Applying prescribed burns on the coast yields large benefits for the West, while doing so in other states has relatively smaller impacts. Larger prescribed burns may reduce smoke impacts from future large wildfires, but few such burns have occurred in key areas.

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Fire weather and smoke

Webinar recording.

The second webinar of the Forest Service’s Research and Development SCIENCEx FIRE week.

Fire Weather and Smoke

Fire Weather Forecasting |​ Brian Potter
New Technology for Monitoring Smoke Impacts | Shawn Urbanski
Smoke Plume Dynamics |​ Yong Liu

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Strategies to reduce wildfire smoke in frequently impacted communities in south-western Oregon

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Fuel treatments can substantially reduce smoke emission from subsequent wildfires and if located in consideration of meteorological patterns, these fuel treatments can reduce ambient concentrations of PM2.5.

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