Technical Corner

Dealing with Forest Fire Smoke at an Evacuation Centre with Smoke Eaters

May 29, 2023

Recent provincial fires have created a facility operations matter that building management may need to consider when designing an evacuation centre. Smoke from recent wildfires in Alberta have stretched across the country, creating hazy skies in several provinces. A real-time tracking map created by AirNow Fire and Smoke Map, which monitors wildfires and air quality in North America, shows the extent of the reach of smoke from these blazes. Evacuation centres set up to assist during the emergency were at a safe distance but were still under the threat of smoke related health issues. Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of gases, particles, and water vapour and contains ozone, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). These pollutants can harm your health, with PM2.5 posing the greatest risk. There is no evidence of a safe level of exposure for most of these pollutants. This means that smoke can impact health even at very low levels. Air quality may be decreased even if evacuees cannot see or smell smoke [More].  Management at some Alberta evacuation centres scrambled to source industrial “smoke eater” equipment. A smoke eater is a device that removes smoke and odours from a room.

Types of Smoke Eater Technologies

  • Electronic: An electronic smoke remover commonly uses electrical charges such as negative ionization to remove odors. They commonly produce ozone as a by-product and the ozone is what neutralizes the unwanted odors.
  • Electrostatic: In an electrostatic system there are positively and negatively charged metal plates that collect the smoke particles. Ozone can be produced to remove the odors. This type is sometimes called an electronic air cleaner.
  • Activated Carbon: Carbon once activated acts like a sponge to adsorb gases, smoke and VOCs. Carbon by itself is not effective for all gases such as formaldehyde, however it is a safe, ozone free method for the removal of most gases.
  • Ozone Generator: Pumps out volumes of ozone to quickly wipe out any odour. Ozone is very effective however it is dangerous for human lungs. Think of it like fumigating a room for bugs, very effective but not meant to be breathed in while it is in operation.

Smoke Eater Equipment Options

  • Commercial Smoke Eaters: A commercial smoke eater is often installed in the ceiling. The air flow rates tend to be much higher than home units. Considerations for a commercial unit in new construction can be given.
  • Portable Smoke Eaters: A portable smoke eater is a smaller device that cane be brought in as required to assist in removing smoke odour in a building.

Recreation facilities are often key to a community’s evacuation plan. Proactive facility managers should be prepared to table information that includes smoke related health issues that should be considered as part of the facilities preparedness plans. Recommending that this type of equipment be installed at the time of construction can be made. Alternatively, knowing where rental equipment can be sourced should form part of the emergency planning documents.

    Comments and/or Questions may be directed to Terry Piche, CRFP, CIT and Director, Training, Research and Development, Ontario Recreation Facilities Association

    Note: The publisher, (Author(s)/General Editor(s)/Licensor(s)) and every person involved in the creation of this communication shall not be liable for any loss, injury, claim, liability or damage of any kind resulting from the use of or reliance on any information or material contained in this communication. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the contents of this communication, it is intended for information purposes only. When creating this communication, none of the publisher, the (Author(s)/General Editor(s)/Licensor(s)) or contributors were engaged in rendering legal or other professional advice. This communication should not be considered or relied upon as if it were such advice. If legal advice or expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought and retained. The publisher and every person involved in the creation of this communication disclaim all liability in respect of the results of the any actions taken in reliance upon information contained in this communication and for any errors or omissions in the works. They expressly disclaim liability to any user of the work.