As if the huge destruction, mass evacuations, blackouts, and the immediate danger posed by this week’s unprecedented California wildfires aren't enough for the authorities and residents to deal with, the associated toxic smoke also presents a serious public health concern for millions in the area.
Fires contribute dramatically to the levels of particulate matter in the air and exposure to high levels of PM2.5 - even over a few days - can have adverse health effects such as triggering asthma attacks, worsening respiratory and heart conditions, and increasing the risk of cancer over time. The young and elderly are particularly affected when the air quality is low.
Air Quality Reporting Through a Huge Wildfire: The Challenging Reality
Huge wildfires present a challenge for real-time air quality reporting due to the highly unpredictable and dynamic nature of smoke travel. However, providers that rely primarily or only on station sensor data will find it particularly difficult to maintain a reliable service at times like this.
A number of providers were unable to provide Californian residents with accurate air quality information over the last few days:
In addition to the usual delays and coverage issues associated with station-only reporting methods, station sensors themselves can become damaged during a wildfire outbreak, causing them to fail to report accurately or not to report at all. During a blackout, station sensors will also stop reporting information altogether.
How Does BreezoMeter Report Accurately When Sensors are Down?
Many people are asking how BreezoMeter can continue to report air quality and notify residents of active fires in their area while other air quality data services become disrupted.
The explanation for this lies in the fact that we adopt a multi-data layer approach for both our air quality and fires reporting. When the information provided by sensors becomes unavailable, we still receive information from sources such as weather, satellites, local authorities and more.
In addition, we deploy highly-sophisticated algorithms and machine learning technology to calculate how pollutants are dispersed across different topological conditions, then put the information through a process of strict accuracy validation before reporting it.
BreezoMeter is currently the only air quality data provider that adopts a process of continuous accuracy testing; this method also means we identify and remove incorrect information provided to us by station sensors before reporting to users.
The combination of these methods means we can continue to report on air quality in an accurate way, and in some cases, we’ll pick up information about a new active fire before the media becomes aware of it.
The Importance of Timely Alerts During a Wildfire Outbreak
The smoke emitted by a wildfire can spread much further than the original fire source and sometimes the air quality can be worse after a fire has been contained than when it was active. Air quality can also be lower in a surrounding area than at the site of the fire itself.
Anyone in the area of a wildfire outbreak should stay up to date with new active fires in their area and keep informed of the changing air quality levels where they are - this is the best way to manage personal exposure to toxic pollution during a fire outbreak.
To keep updated, use our live fire and smoke pollution map or download BreezoMeter's free air quality tracking and fire alerts app here:
Share your Experience with Us
We have confidence in the accuracy of our air quality information but during a fast-changing wildfire event, we are not on the ground while you, our users, are.
If you’d like to query or are confused by the information you’re receiving from us, let us know the location and issue at email@example.com- we'll look into it.