Environmental sampling of volatile organic compounds during the 2018 Camp Fire in Northern California

Leslie A. Simms, Eva Borras, Bradley S. Chew, Bruno Matsui, Mitchell M. McCartney, Stephen K. Robinson, Nicholas Kenyon, Cristina E. Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Trace analysis of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during wildfires is imperative for environmental and health risk assessment. The use of gas sampling devices mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to chemically sample air during wildfires is of great interest because these devices move freely about their environment, allowing for more representative air samples and the ability to sample areas dangerous or unreachable by humans. This work presents chemical data from air samples obtained in Davis, CA during the most destructive wildfire in California's history - the 2018 Camp Fire – as well as the deployment of our sampling device during a controlled experimental fire while fixed to a UAV. The sampling mechanism was an in-house manufactured micro-gas preconcentrator (µPC) embedded onto a compact battery-operated sampler that was returned to the laboratory for chemical analysis. Compounds commonly observed in wildfires were detected during the Camp Fire using gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC–MS), including BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, m+p-xylene, and o-xylene), benzaldehyde, 1,4-dichlorobenzene, naphthalene, 1,2,3-trimethylbenzene and 1-ethyl-3-methylbenzene. Concentrations of BTEX were calculated and we observed that benzene and toluene were highest with average concentrations of 4.7 and 15.1 µg/m3, respectively. Numerous fire-related compounds including BTEX and aldehydes such as octanal and nonanal were detected upon experimental fire ignition, even at a much smaller sampling time compared to samples taken during the Camp Fire. Analysis of the air samples taken both stationary during the Camp Fire and mobile during an experimental fire show the successful operation of our sampler in a fire environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)135-147
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Environmental Sciences (China)
StatePublished - May 2021


  • 2018 Camp Fire
  • Environmental sampling
  • Micro preconcentrators
  • Mobile VOC sampling
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Wildfire

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)


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