Tuesday, September 13, 2016

9/13/2016 Using Prescribed Fire and Measuring Impacts to Air Quality

In the Spring of 2016, the Washington State Legislature passed House Bill 2928, the Forest Resiliency Burning Pilot project. The goal of the pilot project is to examine the role that prescribed fire can play in creating healthier, more resilient forests. Of course prescribed fires produce smoke, so one important part of the pilot is monitoring the quantity and severity of any air quality impairment caused by the prescribed fires.

A major challenge when using prescribed fire is to simultaneously protect air quality from the inevitable smoke that is produced. To the greatest extent possible, prescribed fires are planned for days when winds and weather will keep smoke away from populated areas. Although sometimes the best days to safely use fire in the forests are not the best days to protect air quality.

Most of the proposed pilot burns are in fairly remote parts of the state meaning some small, nearby communities are not well represented by the extensive permanent air quality monitoring network operated by the Washington Department of Ecology. To determine the effect of prescribed burning on air quality in these more remote parts of the state, nine new temporary air quality monitors have been deployed to supplement the permanent monitoring network already in operation. New monitors have been placed in Curlew, Kettle Falls, Sherman Creek Hatchery, Usk, Manson, Plain, Liberty, Naches, and Nile. In addition, permanent monitors in Winthrop, Chelan, and Leavenworth will be scrutinized for smoke impacts from forest resiliency burning (see image below). Many of the temporary monitors now also display on our blog map (above) as triangles.

Washington Department of Natural Resources is leading the effort with the help of many partner agencies and organizations. More about the Forest Resiliency Burning Pilot can be found here: http://www.putfiretowork.org/

New fires in eastern WA. Prescribed burning likely

The Rock Creek fire on SR410 near Cliffdale is causing Moderate air around Naches. Expect air quality to vary between Moderate and Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups overnight in Naches, Yakima, Tieton and Cowiche, with daytime clearing through Friday. The Kittitas valley could see a little overnight smoke from this fire after Wednesday. 

In the lower Colombia Gorge, two fires are burning light fuels near Roosevelt. Areas from Wishram to Lyle will see a some smoke settling overnight, leading to ModerateUnhealthy for Sensitive Groups air.

It should be noted that several prescribed burns are planned throughout the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in the coming days and weeks, and the public may see smoke as a result. 

Northeast winds blowing across the state will slacken early Wednesday, meaning colder overnight temperatures, calmer winds, and higher relative humidities, aiding fire fighting efforts. We should have less and less smoke as the week wraps up.

Here's a snapshot of the statewide forecast for Wednesday

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Moderate air expected in parts of Chelan county over the long weekend

Winds in Chelan County last evening turned out to be stronger than expected, resulting in Good air quality.

Cloudy skies with moderate winds an occasional showers will be the norm for most of the long weekend. This will keep fire activity in check and also help disperse smoke.

The Buck Creek and Saul fires are likely to cause some smoke impacts nearby, particularly in the evenings and nights. Expect air quality at Coles Corner, Plain, Leavenworth, Wenatchee and Chelan to be no worse than Moderate on occasion. Good air quality is expected during the day.

No major smoke concerns elsewhere in the state.