491 Public Health Partnerships during the 2015 Northern U.S. Wildfire Smoke Intrusion

Monday, 11 January 2016
Tanja E. Fransen, NOAA/NWS, Glasgow, MT

Handout (769.6 kB)

On June 28th, forecasters at NOAA/NWS Glasgow, MT noticed on GOES visible satellite imagery some very large streaks of smoke coming from the northern Canadian Prairie Provinces into the eastern Dakotas and Minnesota. They shared a post about it on their social media platforms. On the morning of June 29th, the smoke looked primed to enter into Montana with a northerly flow aloft, and forecasters sent additional messages out on social media and in an email to partners. On the evening of the 29th, the smoke arrived and the visibility was suddenly drastically reduced across much of the “Hiline” region. Some areas reported visibility of ¾ of a mile or less, and area web cams showed even worse conditions. And, the smell of fire was very strong in the air prompting calls to 911 centers. NWS Glasgow issued its first ever Dense Smoke Advisory after phone calls into the office from partners and the public asking where the fire was. Calls were made to local media outlets in the most impacted areas to publicize where the smoke was coming from. With only two air quality monitoring stations in the region, both of which were showing “Very Unhealthy” NWS Glasgow staff had to respond to a significant health threat the area hadn't seen since the 1988 Yellowstone National Park Fires. There were many in the general public who didn't want to believe that it was actually from fires nearly 700 miles away. There were 148,000 acres burning in northern Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Northwest Territories at that time and over the next several weeks, the fires expanded to include British Columbia and over 6 million acres. NWS Glasgow decided to reach out to our public health partners to create a message that was consolidated and consistent to share with local and regional media as well as through social media outlets.

This presentation/poster will cover the best practices and lessons learned from a significant and prolonged wildfire smoke event.

Thanks go to Andrew Giles, Environment Canada at Kelowna for providing the Canadian Fire Daily Situation Report.

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