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Why the USDA Forest Service Monitors Air Quality during Wildland Fires

Posted by Leah Anderson, Eastern Region Public Affairs, USDA Forest Service in Forestry
May 02, 2018
ARA Trent Wickman observing smoke dispersion on a prescribed fire
While ARAs make use of a variety of tools to address smoke management on wildland fires, there is no substitute for first hand observations. Here ARA Trent Wickman observes smoke dispersion on a prescribed fire to complement the use of smoke modeling and other tools that help inform fire personnel and the public. (Photo courtesy of Jeremy Ash, Forest Service Air Resource Specialist)

Air Quality Awareness Week raises mindfulness about the importance of air quality issues. The USDA Forest Service commemorates the week and its 2018 theme “Air Quality Where You Are” with partners. This year, the Forest Service is featuring one area where air resource management is essential - wildland firefighting.

Recognizing the growing threat that wildfire smoke poses to the health and safety of the public and fire personnel, the Forest Service partnered with other federal, state and tribal agencies to implement a proactive and determined response. This included development of new modeling techniques to more accurately characterize emissions from wildfires. It also included creation of a new position in the fire organization – the Air Resource Advisor (ARA).

ARAs are technical specialists with expertise in air quality science; including monitoring, smoke modeling, pollutant health, thresholds and smoke risks and mitigation. These specialists are trained to work on issues related to smoke from a wildland fire, and are deployed nationwide.

During wildfire incidents, their objective is to provide timely, science-based information related to smoke impact and forecasts. They communicate these impacts to incident teams, air quality regulators, fire personnel and the public.

These same skills are used on prescribed fires on the ARA’s home unit.

In 2017, two air resource specialists in the Eastern Region of the Forest Service, Trent Wickman and Chuck Sams, served on four different fires as ARAs. Trent shared his thoughts about these assignments. “I enjoy working on wildfires and prescribed fires as an ARA because the work I do really makes an immediate impact in people’s lives.”

The Forest Service’s air resource management is multi-faceted, interdisciplinary and mission critical. It helps to protect air quality through compliance with specific Federal and state laws supporting the Forest Service’s mission to: sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the need of present and future generations.

Map of USDA Forest Service Air Resource Advisor deployments
Map of USDA Forest Service Air Resource Advisor deployments in 2017.
Category/Topic: Forestry