Smoke Exposure

Firefighter Health First-Aid
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Nov 2020


Exposure to smoke during fire operations can be a significant safety concern. Research has shown that smoke exposure on prescribed fires, especially in the holding and ignition positions, often exceeds that on wildfires. There are many precautions that can be taken to limit personnel exposure to smoke.


Smoke exposure needs to be considered when planning suppression tactics and prescribed fires. Simple actions, such as the following, can mitigate smoke exposures.

  • Alter line locations to minimize smoke exposure.
  • Locate firelines in areas of lighter fuels or use roads or other barriers that will require less holding, patrol, and mop-up.
  • Use flanking attack as opposed to head attack (where appropriate) in heavy smoke situations.
  • Check fire behavior forecasts for smoke and inversion potential.
  • In heavy smoke, give up acres to gain control.


Many techniques, including the following, can help reduce the exposure of personnel to heavy smoke.

  • Rotate people out of the heaviest smoke area; this may be the single most effective method.
  • Locate camps and Incident Command Posts in areas not prone to inversions.
  • Minimize snag falling, consistent with safety concerns, to avoid putting heavy fuels on the ground that will require mop-up.
  • Change firing patterns and pre-burning (black lining) during less severe conditions to greatly reduce exposure to smoke.
  • The use of retardant, foam, or sprinklers can also significantly reduce the workload and exposure time for holding crews.


Additional Resources

Incident Management Situation Report (IMSR)
Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461
NWCG Standards for Helicopter Operations, PMS 510
RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)
Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (Red Book)
Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center

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