Wildland Fire in Ecosystems Effects of Fire on Air

General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-42-volume 5
December 2002


Sandberg, David V.; Ottmar, Roger D.; Peterson, Janice L.; Core, John. 2002. Wildland fire on ecosystems: effects of fire on air. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-42-vol. 5. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 79 p.

This state-of-knowledge review about the effects of fire on air quality can assist land, fire, and air resource managers with fire and smoke planning, and their efforts to explain to others the science behind fire-related program policies and practices to improve air quality. Chapter topics include air quality regulations and fire; characterization of emissions from fire; the transport, dispersion, and modeling of fire emissions; atmospheric and plume chemistry; air quality impacts of fire; social consequences of air quality impacts; and recommendations for future research.

Keywords: smoke, air quality, fire effects, smoke management, prescribed fire, wildland fire, wildfire,
biomass emissions, smoke dispersion


David V. Sandberg, Research Physical Scientist, Corvallis Forestry Sciences Laboratory, Pacific Northwest Research Station, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Corvallis, OR 97331

Roger D. Ottmar, Research Forester, Seattle Forestry Sciences Laboratory, Pacific Northwest Research Station, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Seattle, WA 98103

Janice L. Peterson, Air Resource Specialist, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Mountlake Terrace, WA 98053

John Core, Consultant, Core Environmental Consulting, Portland, OR 97229

Cover photo—Photo by Roger Ottmar. Smoke blots out the sun during the 1994 Anne Wildfire in western Montana.


In 1978, a national workshop on fire effects in Denver, Colorado, provided the impetus for the “Effects of Wildland Fire on Ecosystems” series. Recognizing that knowledge of fire was needed for land management planning, state-of-the-knowledge reviews were produced that became known as the “Rainbow Series.” The series consisted of six publications, each with a different colored cover, describing the effects of fire on soil, water, air, flora, fauna, and fuels.

The Rainbow Series proved popular in providing fire effects information for professionals, students, and others. Printed supplies eventually ran out, but knowledge of fire effects continued to grow. To meet the continuing demand for summaries of fire effects knowledge, the interagency National Wildfire Coordinating Group asked Forest Service research leaders to update and revise the series. To fulfill this request, a meeting for organizing the revision was held January 4-6, 1993, in Scottsdale, Arizona. The series name was then changed to “The Rainbow Series.” The five volume series covers air, soil and water, fauna, flora and fuels, and cultural resources.

The Rainbow Series emphasizes principles and processes rather than serving as a summary of all that is known. The five volumes, taken together, provide a wealth of information and examples to advance understanding of basic concepts regarding fire effects in the United States and Canada. As conceptual background, they provide technical support to fire and resource managers for carrying out interdisciplinary planning, which is essential to managing
wildlands in an ecosystem context. Planners and managers will find the series helpful in many aspects of ecosystem-based management, but they will also need to seek out and synthesize more detailed information to resolve specific management questions.

— The Authors
December 2002


The Rainbow Series was compiled under the sponsorship of the Joint Fire Science Program,a cooperative fire science effort of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, and the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and U.S. Geological Survey. Several scientists provided significant input without requesting authorship in this volume. We acknowledge valuable contributions by Sue A. Ferguson, Timothy E. Reinhardt, Robert Yokelson, Dale Wade, and Gary Achtemeier. We also thank the following individuals for their suggestions, information, and assistance that led to substantial technical and editorial improvements in the manuscripts: Scott Goodrick, Allen R. Riebau, Sue A. Ferguson, and Patti Hirami. Finally, we appreciate Marcia Patton-Mallory and Louise Kingsbury for persistence and