Prepare For Wildfire Season With An Air Quality Monitor

For some reason, wildfire seasons in Australia, North America, and other places around the world seem to happen more and more frequently and with greater and greater fervor. Living in these areas requires special precautions, even for those who live far away from the fires. If you’re not sure if the wildfires are impacting your area or not, one of the tools you can build on your own is an air quality meter like [Costas Vav] shows us in this latest build.

The air quality indicator is based around an Adafruit Feather RP2040 which is in turn based on the 32-bit Cortex M0+ dual core processor. This makes for a quite capable processor in a small package, and helps accomplish one of the design goals of a rapid startup time. Another design goal was to use off-the-shelf components so that anyone could easily build one for themselves, so while the Feather is easily obtained the PMS5003 PM2.5 air quality sensor needed to be as well. From there, all of the components are wrapped up in an easily-printed enclosure and given a small (and also readily-available) OLED screen.

[Costas Vav] has made all of the files needed to build one of these available, from the bill of materials to the software running on the Pi-compatible board to the case designs. It’s a valuable piece of technology to have around even if you don’t live in fire-prone areas. Not only can wildfire smoke travel across entire continents but simple household activities such as cooking (especially with natural gas or propane) can decimate indoor air quality. You can see that for yourself with an army of ESP32-based air quality sensors.

12 thoughts on “Prepare For Wildfire Season With An Air Quality Monitor

  1. There have been a lot of these PM2.5 projects recently. This one looks very nice other than maybe the lack of external charging? I must have missed it because it would have to be there.

    BUT. So you have a 2.5 micron particle problem that is identified by this or one of the other hacks. You can’t open a window – the source of the pollution is a wild fire or you live in India or China. You can turn on your HEPA filtering solution, I guess, but you probably already noticed that the air quality was questionable.

    I just don’t get the purpose of any of these hacks. If it automatically turns on your air filter, then fine, but if it just displays the air quality, it just seems like a lot of wankery.

    1. “but you probably already noticed that the air quality was questionable” – is that necessarily true? I don’t live in a place excessively prone to wild fires, living in England, but I’ve been witness to Saharan dust being dumped from the sky where you wouldn’t notice unless you’ve got particular problems with your lungs, and the accumulation on surfaces. Certainly if you’re very close to a wild fire you can smell it and see the plume of smoke, but if you’re far away enough that you only get the microscopic particles do you necessarily detect it with your body?

  2. For some reason – meaning a combination of climate change and decades of poor forestry management practices that included suppressing healthy fires.

    Very cool to see this. I’ve looked at some commercial “IoT” air quality monitors. I keep hesitating based on knowing that all it will take is an app update to make them near useless.

    1. Yeah the aborigines used to do controlled burns in Australia but were stopped from doing it a decade or so ago, resulting in the blazing disaster of last year.

      What amazes me is that so many houses in these areas are built from timber (apart from the chimney stack which is all that is left afterwards).

      I had an idea which is to throw any old plastic cartons – milk cartons would be ideal – into the loft space filled with water. Then if a fire does break out it will be self-extinguishing, once you’ve thrown a few tons up there, joist strength notwithstanding.

    2. I’d really like to think it wasn’t the case, but I think quite a few of these wildfires might also be started deliberately. Probably no way to know for sure how many. It’s a pretty depressing thought.

  3. The problem with all these sensors is they require being calibrated against a standard. Otherwise, they can be off by orders of magnitude. Doing a zero is easy enough, but the scale is harder.

  4. Why are these taking off all of a sudden I wonder. I remember my company had to buy one of the first ones available off of Tindie but now they’re everywhere. Did a chinese manufacturer just start pumping these out or did someone invent one and everyone else copied it? Or maybe it’s been around forever. All I remember is about a year ago I could only find one person selling these light scattering particle monitors and now they’re everywhere.

  5. I built the sensor from Luftdaten a couple of year ago. It’s now renamed to and people from 70 countries are running a worldwide sensor net. It’s based on the ESP8266, so cheap and because of the wifi it reports back and data is provided on a map. Apart from PPM10 and PPM2.5 it also reports temp and humidity. So for the wildfire example you could check also the neighbors readings and be warned way in advance.

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