Thursday, July 9, 2015   |   Business Intelligence, Critical Weather

Watching for Wildfires: How Baron’s Fire and Smoke Product Can Help You Prepare

The U.S. is situated within the perfect conditions for massive, destructive wildfires. With plenty of areas abundant in dry weather, drought and frequent storms with lightning, an average of 5 million acres of U.S. land are destroyed each year due to wildfires, according to National Geographic. In recent years, it’s estimated that wildfires have consumed nearly 9 million acres of land. That’s more than the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.

Although the majority of these fires are man-made, weather has no problem helping the process along or creating fires itself. Recently in the news, wildfires have been the topic of much discussion. Many have expressed concerns about the coming months, predicting an above-average risk for wildfire outbreaks. Successful evacuation plans and property damage prevention hinge on staying aware of fire and smoke developments.

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Predicting and Pinpointing Wildfires

In 2012, Baron embarked on delivering fire/smoke products directly to its broadcast customers. Automated data was brought in from various remote sensing platforms and satellites to inform viewers of areas with light, moderate and heavy smoke, providing situational awareness of where fires and smoke are occurring.

While nowcasting data provides vital information on current smoke plume locations, the Baron model also offers a complementary product that helps produce fire and smoke forecasts extending 48 to 120 hours in the future.

The Baron model takes the fire location information, applies a burn rate model based on intensity estimates, and then assimilates it into a suite of numerical air quality prediction models (NAQPs) to produce forecasts. This gives the public and stakeholders an estimate of where the smoke plumes will be blown or carried away by the wind based on forecast weather information.

“While the nowcasting product and Baron model both use the same hazard mapping system for fire location information, one is a ‘now’ product, while the other is used to produce forecasted fire/smoke data,” said John McHenry, Chief Scientist at Baron. “The two work well together to inform viewers of fire and smoke conditions in the U.S.”

Fire and Smoke Products in Action

June 2015 was a relatively active month for forest fires. With the early part of the month resulting in fire and smoke plumes over the eastern half of the U.S., and late June bringing about numerous forest fires throughout the Northwest Territories of Canada, everyone was watching for the latest developments.

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Baron’s value-added smoke product traced the effects of several Canadian wildfires as their smoke made its way across the eastern half of the U.S., bringing hazy skies, allergy problems and beautiful sunsets. The first image was taken on June 9 in the height of smoke storm, while the second image was taken two days later as the smoke began to disperse.

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Later in the month, numerous forest fires affected the Northwest Territories of Canada through northern sections of the Province of Saskatchewan. Warm, dry conditions made for favorable wildfire weather. Baron’s value-added fire and smoke product shows each forest fire represented by a red dot (pictured above).

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The extent of the smoke and haze was enough that visible satellite clearly showed areas of smoke and haze from the north of Edmonton though the Dakotas, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Know How to Prepare

With conditions being so favorable for wildfires, it’s important that people know how they could possibly be affected if a fire were to break out in their area. Within the U.S., states west of the Rockies need to be especially concerned when it comes to preparation.

“Fires can cause a number of issues for people in the aviation industry, people who live near or around wildfire-prone areas, and even travelers using the interstates,” said Matt Havin, Data Services Manager at Baron. “Residents of these areas need to know what kind of weather conditions lead to explosive growth of wildfires.”

Perhaps the most important safety feature of forecast fire and smoke information, is the ability to evacuate residents before the damaging wildfires reach their area. On July 5, 2015, nearly 200 people in Bayview, Idaho were asked to evacuate their homes because of a 3 mile wildfire that required 100 firefighters, four aircraft and a U.S. Navy boat to extinguish, according to the Idaho Statesmen.

Even after the fires are extinguished, heavy smoke can travel thousands of miles and cause poor air quality for several days after the event. This can lead to health concerns from smoke inhalation, prompting some areas to issue health warnings, encouraging residents to remain indoors with windows closed.

“The best thing people can do to keep their family safe is determine if the area they live in is prone to wildfires, create a preparedness plan, and pay attention to the weather,” said McHenry. “Planning ahead can make all the difference.”

For more information on how to prepare your family for a wildfire, visit http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/wildfire.