Smoke Management Guidelines


Prescribed Burning in the Southeast

Fire is an integral part of the southern Yellow Pine ecosystem.  Without prescribed fire, the Southern forests could not be managed efficiently for all their resources, and there would be a drastic increase in damage by wildfire.  The resulting smoke would also cause visibility problems and reduce air quality, contributing to an increase in health and welfare problems of the general public.

The use of fire, however, entails responsibility for any incidents or problems caused by the smoke produced as well as for the fire itself.  Those involved in prescribed burning have a responsibility to manage the smoke as well as the fire.

Smoke from prescribed fires have caused many serious accidents which resulted in fatalities, serious injuries, and untold numbers of vehicles damaged or totaled.  Numerous lawsuits have occurred as the result of these accidents.  Settlements of many were in the millions of dollars, and estimates of pending litigation are astronomical.

The vast majority of these accidents occurred during the early morning hours.  The predominant causes were:

  1. Residual smoke flowing down-drainage or spreading into open areas. 

  2. Surface fog, or --

  3. A mixture of smoke and fog.


The objectives of these Smoke Management Guidelines are to manage the production and dispersion of smoke when prescribe burning to prevent adverse impacts on areas sensitive to smoke such as; highways, airports, cities, hospitals, and some farms.

These guidelines discuss the more important elements that affect smoke production and dispersion. The elements are then used in a screening system that will enable the burning prescriptionist to manage the smoke as well as the prescribed fire. Special problems are also discussed as well as proper planning procedures.

These guidelines are designed to be used at training sessions or by those trained and experienced in fire behavior and in prescribed burning. Many of the items discussed will not be as meaningful without knowledge of these two areas.

Smoke Dispersion Smoke Production Topography Factors Minimizing Risks
Screening Systems Special Cautions Potential Problems