Minimizing Risks

Written Prescribed Burning Plan

Scheduling and administering the prescribed burning program for an area or district is an important part of forestland management.  Planning should be done on an annual basis, with written plans for each burning block.  (see Certification) Planning for smoke management should be done at the same time.  When completed, all burning should be evaluated and documented (see sample plan). 

Such plans (for which training is also needed), should include the following:

Guidelines for Managing Smoke

Utilize the Smoke Management Guidelines to decrease the amount of smoke produced, increase smoke dispersion, and reduce any possible adverse effects from the smoke produced.  The reason each of these guidelines will help to reduce any adverse effects will be clear to those who are knowledgeable about fire behavior.

  1. Prepare written “Prescribed Burning Plan” well in advance.

  2. Make smoke management a part of your prescription.

  3. Cut low stumps and fell dead snags when there are smoke-sensitive areas down-drainage.

  4. Secure and use latest weather forecast.

  5. Check moisture of fine fuel and lower litter by feeling with your hands.

  6. Use test fire to check fire behavior and smoke dispersion.  

  7. Use short burning intervals (2-3 yrs.) for maintenance burns.

  8. Minimize amount of logging debris by close utilization.

  9. Leave debris scattered instead of piling.

  10. Favor small piles over windrows.

  11. Pile debris when dry and shake out dirt.

  12. Burn debris when it is dry.

  13. Burn piled debris when surface winds are low to moderate and transport winds are high.

  14. Take the necessary precautions to keep stumps and snags from burning.

  15. Burn when visibility is good.

  16. Burn when transport wind speed is 10 mph or greater. (or D.I. is over 40)

  17. On large, continuous blocks, do not light the entire block at one time.

  18. Burn during the middle of the day.

  19. Burn when fine fuel moisture is low.

  20. Burn when mixing height is at least 1,700 feet (3,000 feet for helicopter burns or burns of 300 acres or more).

  21. Burn when atmosphere is “slightly unstable” to “unstable.”

  22. Favor backing fires for small burns, but don’t burn after dusk.

  23. If burns must be done at night, take these precautions:  

    1. Use backing fire,

    2. Be sure surface winds are over 4 mph at site,  

    3. Be sure the relative humidity is under 80% (the lower, the better)  

    4. Be sure no temperature inversions exist.

  24. If the type and condition of the fuel produces large amounts of residual smoke, stop ignition by 3:00 p.m..  

  25. Mop-up for residual smoke as well as control of fire.

  26. Complete debris burns before October.


If there are smoke-sensitive areas which might be impacted, the importance of mop-up is increased.  Much can be done to reduce residual smoke by putting out stumps and snags.  Heavy fuel concentrations (tops, etc.) can be scattered so the fire will burn out instead of smoldering into the late afternoon, evening, and night hours.

Atmospheric conditions always deteriorate at night. Smoke will not be lifted. Instead, it will stay near the ground and drift down-slope and down-drainage, settling in low areas. Mop-up for smoke management is a must if there are smoke-sensitive areas down-drainage.