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Predicting Local Smoke Dispersion During Low-Intensity Wildland Fires in Forested Environments

Sponsored by: JFSP, International Association of Wildland Fire, Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center
Speaker: Warren Heilman

Smoke generated from low-intensity prescribed fires used for fuels management can have an adverse impact on local air quality, raising human health and safety concerns especially in wildland-urban-interface areas. Local smoke behavior is a complex process and is highly dependent on local ambient atmospheric conditions (e.g. wind speed and direction, stability) and fire-induced atmospheric conditions.

The presence of forest overstory vegetation can add further complexity to the local dispersion of smoke. Planning and managing low-intensity prescribed fires in forested environments may be enhanced with meteorological and smoke modeling systems that adequately account for the effects of forest overstory vegetation on fire-fuel-atmosphere interactions and the local transport of fire emissions. 

Through a recently completed Interagency Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) study involving meteorological and air-quality monitoring and modeling of low-intensity prescribed fires in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, we now have additional insight into how forest overstory vegetation can affect local smoke dispersion.

A new version of the Advanced Regional Prediction System (ARPS) capable of simulating turbulent flows inside forest vegetation layers (ARPS-CANOPY) was developed as part of the study. When coupled with an appropriate particle dispersion model, ARPS-CANOPY could potentially be used to predict local air-quality impacts of low-intensity prescribed fires in forested environments. This presentation provides a summary of some of the key meteorological/air-quality observational and ARPS-CANOPY-based modeling results as well as follow-up efforts to test the feasibility of using ARPS-CANOPY as an operational tool for predicting local air quality impacts of low-intensity fires"