Prescribed fires produce smoke that adversely impacts public health, although not to the same degree as wildfires. The public needs to understand these trade-offs, but scientists can also assist by improving the fire and smoke models used to forecast smoke impacts on downwind communities.
The Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment (FASMEE) is a large-scale inter-agency effort to identify how fuels, fire behavior, fire energy and meteorology interact to determine the dynamics of smoke plumes, the long-range transport of smoke and local fire effects such as soil heating and vegetative response. FASMEE is designed to collect observations from large prescribed fires by combining Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), radar, ground monitoring, aircraft and satellite imagery, and weather and atmospheric measurements. Knowing more about how wild land fire operates helps land managers better predict fire behavior, smoke impacts, and the short- to long-term effects of fire. It also promotes increased public and firefighter safety and aids in the allocation of firefighting resources.The scale and scope of the wildfire challenge in the West is enormous and involves not just the US Forest Service and other federal land management agencies, but the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), among others. The Fire Influence on Regional to Global Environments Experiment - Air Quality (FIREX-AQ), jointly run by NOAA and NASA, is currently investigating both wild and prescribed fires nationwide.
The overarching objective of FIREX-AQ is to measure trace gas and aerosol emissions for wildfires and prescribed fires in great detail, relate them to fuel and fire conditions at the point of emission, characterize the conditions relating to plume rise, follow plumes downwind to understand chemical transformation and air quality impacts, and assess the efficacy of satellite detections for estimating emissions from fires. Andrew Hudak’s role in FIREX-AQ is to use field and lidar datasets to more accurately estimate fuels and fuel consumption on selected fires where such data are available. More accurate fuel and consumption estimates will reduce the two largest sources of uncertainty in the quality and quantity of smoke emissions from fires, such that existing fuel, fire and smoke models can be improved to more accurately predict smoke impacts on the public.
We are still in the data collection phase of the project. But related prior research and expert knowledge suggest: