Northeast Fire Program
Northeast Region
 

I See Smoke


Seeing smoke can be very troubling. Thoughts race across your mind…where is the smoke coming from? Am I in danger from it?

What do I do if I see smoke on US Fish and Wildlife Service lands?

Smoke on our lands usually means a controlled burn is taking place, but it could be a wildfire, too. Call your local Fish and Wildlife Service office to confirm that it is a controlled burn or contact your local fire department because we notify local fire departments of our controlled burning activity.

What does the US Fish and Wildlife Service do to protect me from smoke?

By periodically conducting controlled burns under the right weather conditions, our goal is to manage smoke within safe air quality levels and avoid the harsher dangers of smoke caused by uncontrolled wildfire. Wildfires often result in decreased visibility and air quality that increases health hazards. Overall, smoke generated by controlled burns contains lower levels of particulates than smoke from wildfires, many of which exceed standards for human health. View a video to see how firefighters plan controlled burns to keep smoke away.

Our professionally trained and experienced firefighters carefully plan and conduct controlled burns. In preparation for a burn, they obtain all necessary permits. They light the fire only when weather conditions such as humidity, wind direction, and wind speed are expected to result in a safe burn that will disperse smoke away from homes and businesses.

Will the smoke hurt me?

Wildfires and occasionally controlled burns under unexpected weather conditions can produce heavy smoke.  The following information is from AIRNow, an interagency web site maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency, National Weather Service, and other US and Canadian agencies (Forest Fire Smoke):

If you are healthy, you're usually not at a major risk from short-term exposures to smoke. Still, it's a good idea to avoid breathing smoke if you can help it. Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic matter burn. The biggest health threat from smoke comes from fine particles. These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses such as bronchitis. Fine particles also can aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases - and even are linked to premature deaths in people with these conditions.

How to protect your family from the health effects of smoke

  • Pay attention to local air quality reports and stay alert to any news coverage or health warnings related to smoke.
  • Use common sense. If it looks smoky outside, it's probably not a good time to mow the lawn or go for a run. And it's probably not a good time for your children to play outdoors.
  • If you are advised to stay indoors, take steps to keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep your windows and doors closed - unless it's extremely hot outside.
  • Check the Air Quality Index (AQI) forecast for your area. The AQI, based on data from local air quality monitors, tells you about the daily air quality in your area and recommends precautions you can take to protect your health. As smoke gets worse, the concentration of particles in the air changes - and so do the steps you should take to protect yourself. Visit AIRNow for local forecast and conditions.
  • Run your air conditioner, if you have one. Keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent bringing additional smoke inside. Note: If you don't have an air conditioner, staying inside with the windows closed may be dangerous in extremely hot weather. In these cases, seek alternative shelter.
  • Help keep particle levels inside lower. When smoke levels are high, try to avoid using anything that burns, such as wood fireplaces, gas logs, gas stoves - and even candles! Don't vacuum. That stirs up particles already inside your home. And don't smoke. That puts even more pollution in your lungs, and in the lungs of people around you. If you have asthma or other lung disease, make sure you follow your doctor's directions about taking your medicines and following your asthma management plan. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen
  • If you have heart or lung disease, if you are an older adult, or if you have children, talk with your doctor about whether and when you should leave the area. When smoke is heavy for a prolonged period of time, fine particles can build up indoors even though you may not be able to see them.
South One Wildfire, Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia, 2008
South One Wildfire, Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia, 2008
Credit: Bob Panko/USFWS
Intentionally set burn to reduce burnable vegetation and stop the progression of the South One Fire
Intentionally set burn to reduce burnable vegetation and stop progression of the South One Fire
Credit: Rob Bozeman/USFWS
Controlled burn to benefit grassland breeding birds
Controlled burn to benefit grassland breeding birds at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in upstate New York
Credit: Catherine J. Hibbard/USFWS
Last updated: February 27, 2013