Forest fire combustion is not a chemically efficient process. Most emission products are organic, and a significant portion of forest fuel emissions consists of particulate matter. Research has determined that it is this fine particulate matter that presents the greatest threat to human health.
Fire managers must carefully consider and manage smoke impacts that can not only compromise public health, but can impair visibility, violate federal, state, and local air quality standards, and reduce public support for restoration. As the use of prescribed fire increases, regulatory agencies are being forced to develop new programs and regulations to address these impacts.
Air quality and smoke management need to be included in every phase of the restoration planning process. Alternatives need to be proposed and analyzed, taking into consideration factors such as smoke dispersal evaluations and emissions estimates. Potential sensitive receptors, or resources or people within the potentially affected area that may be sensitive to smoke impacts, need to be identified.
Modeling of air quality impacts is useful in the planning, permitting, and public education and notification processes. Information about emission, receptor, and air quality dispersion models can be found at the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA) at Colorado State University.
Involving the public in both the planning and implementation phases of prescribed fire projects is vital to their success. An informed and involved public will be supportive of restoration work, prepared for smoke impacts, and understanding of the need for fire.
Barkmann, Gretchen. 2003. Air quality and smoke management. Pages 371-386 in Friederici, Peter, ed. Ecological Restoration of Southwestern Ponderosa Pine Forests: A Sourcebook for Research and Application. Washington, D.C. Island Press.
Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado. http://www.cira.colostate.edu/ 6/25/03
June 25, 2003