Wildfires and Gas Detectors (Expert Picks)
As the effects of climate change worsen, the risk of wildfires continues to increase greatly. Monitoring carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), and airborne particulates can provide early warning to dangerous forest fires. Firefighters use these gas detectors to keep themselves safe while preventing blazing wildfires from spreading too far. In addition, these devices are essential to protect occupants from unexpected forest fires and toxic gas accumulation.
What Gases Can Be Found During a Wildfire?
Forest fires also release substantial amounts of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, ozone, and other particulate matter into the atmosphere. When trees and other plants burn, the stored carbon is released into the environment as a gas.
Which Gas Detectors May Help During a Wildfire?
During a wildfire, it is important to have accurate, sensitive, and trustworthy gas detectors to indicate levels in the home. To monitor air quality, we recommend the Xiaomi Smartmi PM2.5 with advanced laser sensor technology. The Forensics Detectors meters provide early warning to wildfire byproducts, such as carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2).
Particulate PM2.5 Detector
This detector senses the small particles that is the actual smoke material. This material is sometimes referred to as carbon, soot, smoke or particulate. It is dangerous. Some schools in Victoria, mandate PM2.5 detection to protect students from wildfire pollution, termed the "Adverse Weather Policy". Sporting events are cancelled when PM2.5 exceeds 100 ug/m3.
Carbon Monoxide Meter
Carbon Monoxide emissions from fires can be devastating and can last even during smoldering (fire is out). Carbon monoxide reducing oxygen supply to the body. CO also causes headaches and reduce alertness.
Carbon Dioxide Monitor
CO2 is produced in large quantities during a forest fire and can be a excellent way to detect wildfires as a early warning system.
How is Visibility Impaired During a Forest Fire?
As wildfire smoke gets worse, so does visibility. If you are close to the forest fire, you will be able to see thick plumes of smoke. Even if you are far from the source, the surrounding air can appear hazy and limit how far you can see. This added haziness results in more colorful sunsets and sunrises as the suspended particles scatter the light.
In the summer of 2021, wildfires across Northern California caused the sun to glow red, even in New York City. Along with decreased visibility, people have reported the smell of smoke hundreds of miles away from the wildfire.
Is Wildfire Smoke Bad For Me?
Yes, it is bad!
Wildfire emissions contains smoke and carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and particulate matter (PM or soot). In addition, it also contains a cocktail of toxic gases. These include aldehydes, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, toluene, styrene, metals and dioxins.
Wildfire smoke can cause many symptoms such as an irritated throat, cough, headache, stinging eyes, and runny nose. These health issues are the result of small particles infiltrating the respiratory system.
Wildfire smoke can worsen preexisting conditions such as lung disease or asthma.
Is It Safe to Go Outside In Wildfire Smoke?
Avoid inhaling wildfire smoke.
However, this is not always possible if you need to leave the home for school, work, errands, or other reasons. Healthy individuals can typically go outside without extreme symptoms. Children, the elderly, and those with preexisting conditions are more susceptible to smoke and should stay indoors.
How Far Does Wildfire Smoke Spread?
Smoke from wildfires can travel thousands of miles depending on the size of the wildfire, wind conditions, and how high the smoke rises. Smoke from smaller forest fires cannot rise as high and will typically only affect the surrounding areas. However, powerful wildfires can push smoke up into the stratosphere and travel across the globe.
In the summer of 2021, record-breaking wildfires in Russia caused smoke to travel over 2,000 miles. This was the first recorded instance that forest fire smoke reached the North Pole.
Below is a image of smoke traveling across the USA from a California wildfire.
Is Wildfire Smoke Bad For the Environment?
Yes it is.
Wildfires result in large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These emissions trap heat and contribute to global warming through the "greenhouse effect." In addition, forest fires cause destruction to hundreds of trees that work to remove carbon dioxide from the air.
To make matters worse, global warming heats the remaining forests and results in more extreme fire seasons. In other words, the smoke from wildfires causes more fires in the future.
What Are Safe Air Quality Levels?
The Environmental Protection Agency has established certain standard for air quality to protect the public. The agency has set an air quality index (AQI) for ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. These measurements inform people about the surrounding air quality from wildfire smoke and whether they are at risk.
The AQI ranges from 0 - 500, with higher values indicating greater levels of pollution and increasing health concerns. For each pollutant, values less than 100 are considered acceptable for the general public. See the table below or the EPA's website for a more detailed break down of AQI values.
You can check your AQI here.
Level of Concern
|Good||0 - 50||Air quality is satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk.|
|Moderate||51 - 100||Air quality is acceptable. However, there may be a risk for some people, particularly those who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.|
|Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups||101 - 150||Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is less likely to be affected.|
|Unhealthy||151 - 200||Some members of the general public may experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.|
|Very Unhealthy||201 - 300||Health alert: The risk of health effects is increased for everyone.|
|Hazardous||301+||Health warning of emergency conditions: Everyone is more likely to be affected.|
How Can I Prevent Smoke Inhalation From Forest Fires?
If you are indoors, you can prevent wildfire smoke from entering the home by keeping doors and windows closed. Avoid using wood stoves, gas stoves, smoking, and candles.
In addition, gas detectors for CO, CO2, and particulates can help to alert you to rising levels of pollutants.
Which Sensors Are Used to Detect Forest Fire?
Sensor technology is an important tool in detecting forest fires by monitoring pressure, humidity, temperature, and chemical parameters. In particular, particulate, carbon dioxide (CO2), and carbon monoxide (CO) sensors are important for detecting wildfire smoke. This is because of the high amounts of carbon byproducts produced in burning plant matter. Wildfire smoke contains many fine particles which can be monitored using a particulate matter detector.
What Does a Particulate Matter Meter Detect?
Just like a smoke alarm, a particulate detector detects airborne particulates with extreme sensitivity. These devices provide earlier warning to particles that can penetrate the lungs and bloodstream. Particulate matter (PM) refers to any smoke, particulates, or dust that might be suspended in the air.
Detecting PM is an excellent indicator for indoor air quality as a result of the outdoor environment. This can be seen in areas where wildfire smoke contributes to poor air quality.
Do I Need a Carbon Monoxide Meter During a Wildfire?
Yes, you do. Properly functioning carbon monoxide meters are important fire safety tools. These devices provide early warning to dangerous levels of CO from house fires and forest fires.
Who Needs Gas Detectors for Forest Fires?
Gas detectors for wildfire smoke are important for all home and business owners. These essential devices alert occupants to dangerous levels of CO, CO2, and poor air quality. In addition, fire departments and emergency response teams are exposed to higher than average levels of toxic gases. Gas detectors for forest fires alert emergency personnel when the gas levels are too high.
What Gas Detectors Do Firefighters Use During a Wildfire?
During a wildfire, firefighters typically use single-gas CO detectors or 4 gas monitors. Time is of the upmost importance when fighting fires, so these devices must be easy to use and convey the proper information. Any monitors used in fighting forest fires must be able to handle extreme conditions without any risk of explosion.
Most important is the detection of carbon monoxide.
In a study by the US Department of Agriculture, firefighters exceeded the OSHA 8-hour exposure level for CO in 5.6% of wildfires. It is critical for these workers to reduce exposure through shorter shifts and rotating crews.
How Do Gas Detectors Measure Wildfire Smoke?
Particulate detectors use laser sensor technology to measure the number of fine particles suspended in the air. The light beam hits the wildfire smoke and collects the scattering light to monitor air quality.
CO and CO2 sensors convert the detected gas concentration to an electronic signal for analysis by the onboard microprocessor. After receiving the electrical signal, the processor displays the concentration reading.
Where Should I Place a Gas Detector in my home?
Carbon monoxide gas mixes evenly with air because the two have nearly the same density. This has been scientifically proven in various literature studies. It would be reasonable to place a CO alarm at any height.
Carbon dioxide is slightly heavier than air so consider placing it lower on the wall. Air quality monitors can be mounted at any height to alert occupants to high levels of pollutants. In addition, consider practical reasons, such as the potential to be tampered with by kids and pets or inadvertently being bumped.
It is best to keep your wildfire smoke detectors as close to your sleeping area as possible. When you are asleep, you are less likely to notice other side effects of heightened CO, CO2, and PM levels. These devices will alert you to any nearby forest fires even if you are sleeping.
What Are Next Generation Detectors to Detect Wildfires?
While gas detectors are important tools for homeowners and firefighters, there are still many advancements to be made. The next generation of wildfire detectors use new technology to identify forest fires more quickly than ever.
Next generation detectors are powered by the sun or small motions by tree branches. They employ similar CO and CO2 sensors as today's detectors but can cover much larger forest areas due to their low cost and energy usage. These next generation devices can wirelessly transmit data to a monitoring platform that will alert emergency personnel when a wildfire is detected.
What Is the Wildfire Sensors Challenge?
Developed by the EPA, the Wildfire Sensors Challenge encourages innovators to create new detectors that overcome the challenges of forest fires. They must be able to function in remote areas with minimal maintenance while providing essential wildfire data. This competition improves forest fire smoke monitoring to protect the public.
In 2018, the winners created portable sensors capable of real-time monitoring in rugged environments. They used their background in gas detection instruments to create a successful device for measuring air pollutants from wildfires.
Can Drones be Used to help in Detecting Wildfires?
Yes they can and they are.
Researchers have proposed using drone use for early wildfire detection. Using cameras they pass over to collect data wirelessly, using the IoT, from low-cost sensors positioned throughout a wildland area. The sensors monitor the forest for any signs of smoke or heat.
- As the effects of climate change worsen, the risk of wildfires continues to increase greatly.
- Monitoring carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), and airborne particulates can provide early warning to dangerous forest fires.
- Firefighters use these gas detectors to keep themselves safe while preventing blazing wildfires from spreading too far.
- Gas detectors for wildfires are essential to protect occupants from unexpected forest fires and toxic gas accumulation.
About The Author
Dr. Koz is the President of FORENSICS DETECTORS, where the company operates from the scenic Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles, California. He is a subject matter expert on gas sensor technology, gas detectors, gas meters, and gas analyzers. He has been designing, building, manufacturing, and testing toxic gas detection systems for over 20 years.
Every day is a blessing for Dr. Koz. He loves to help customers solve their unique problems. Dr. Koz also loves spending time with his wife and his three children going to the beach, grilling burgers, and having a cold beer.
Read more about Forensics Detectors here.