Potential Problems

On all prescribed burns, take time to observe (1) fire behavior, (2) smoke dispersion, and (3) effects on the vegetation.  Document this information by making it a part of the written plan (see “Prescribed Burning Plan”).

When a potential problem is observed, stop burning and plow out if possible.  Notify your office and the state forestry office immediately.  Request help in getting out flagmen and signs along roads.  Also, notify people who may be affected if smoke is threatening communities, airports, farms, or homes.

What to Do After An Incident Occurs

  1. Immediately investigate the incident to determine if it was caused by smoke from the prescribed burn.  If not, determine and document the actual cause immediately.  Do not wait!  Valuable evidence will be lost.

  2. Secure names, addresses, and telephone numbers of any witnesses.

  3. If at night, check to determine if fog was present in the area.

  4. Check for other sources of smoke.  Remember--it takes only a very small amount to smell, but a lot to reduce visibility.

  5. Take pictures of both the incident site and the burn.

  6. Secure weather records.

  7. Seek expert advice.


Most states impose some type of restrictions on open burning.  In most cases, a burning permit is required and compliance with specified criteria may be mandatory.  Although many requirements are for fire control purposes, several states have added restrictions designed to improve air quality and reduce incidents from smoke.  For your own protection, it is very important to be aware of and comply with regulations. (see Legal Aspects)

A few states have added “voluntary” smoke management guidelines.  The voluntary guidelines are more practical since they consider more than just weather-related factors.  However, they are still very limited due to the more general input utilized.  These guidelines should be used only as additional information on the “go or no go” decision on whether or not to burn at that time and what procedure to use.  The final decision, as well as the outcome, is still the responsibility of the person in charge of the burn.

Some states have passed a “prescribed Burning Act” in the last few years. (see CertificationThese acts give the forest landowner the “right” to use prescribed fire as a land management tool.  However, they require:

  1. The person in charge to be “Certified”.  This requires attending a training session and passing a written exam.

  2. They also require a written prescription for each burn that meets minimum requirements.  They have to be signed by the person making the prescription and witnessed or notarized.