Prescribed Fire

Prescribed fire is an important land management tool with many benefits.  Prescribed fire can reduce the overall size of a future wildfire and the associated smoke emissions and smoke-related health impacts, as well as benefit the safety of the public, the environment, and the economy of Tennessee.  The use of prescribed fire does create smoke which contains particulate matter, ozone precursors, and other air contaminants.  To minimize the public health and environmental impacts of smoke from prescribed burning, the Division of Air Pollution Control recommends employment of the appropriate Basic Smoke Management Practices (BSMP) by anyone utilizing prescribed fire.  BSMP are defined as those practices included in Table 1 to 40 CFR 50.14:

Table 1

Summary of Basic Smoke Management Practices, Benefit Achieved With the BSMP, and When it is Applied

Basic Smoke Management Practice

Benefit achieved with the BSMP

When the BSMP is applied—before/during/after the burn

Evaluate Smoke Dispersion Conditions

Minimize smoke impacts

Before, During, After.

Monitor Effects on Air Quality

Be aware of where the smoke is going and the degree to which it impacts air quality

Before, During, After.

Recordkeeping/Maintain a Burn/Smoke Journal

Retain information about the weather, burn, and smoke. If air quality problems occur, documentation helps analyze and address air regulatory issues.

Before, During, After.

Communication—Public Notification

Notify neighbors and those potentially impacted by smoke, especially sensitive receptors

Before, During.

Consider Emission Reduction Techniques

Reducing emissions through mechanisms such as reducing fuel loading can reduce downwind impacts

Before, During, After.

Share the Airshed—Coordination of Area Burning

Coordinate multiple burns in the area to manage exposure of the public to smoke

Before, During, After.

In September 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized revisions to the Exceptional Events Rule to establish criteria and procedures for use in determining if air quality monitoring data has been influenced by exceptional events.  The Exceptional Events Rule contains provisions for States to make exceptional events demonstrations for prescribed fires that cause a specific air pollution concentration in excess of one or more national ambient air quality standards at a particular air quality monitoring location.   

The Exceptional Events Rule specifies criteria which must be met for the State to make an exceptional event demonstration.  To help meet these criteria, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Department of Agriculture, Division of Forestry (Forestry) have an agreement to follow the BSMP specified in Table 1 to 40 CFR 50.14 as well as other notification, education, and outreach guidelines.  This Memorandum of Understanding   marks an important partnership between the State’s air quality and forestry authorities to support the use of prescribed fire as an important land management tool while taking necessary precautions to minimize impacts on air quality.

For more information about prescribed fire, please visit Forestry’s website.  For more information about prescribed fire and air quality, please contact the Division’s Open Burning Contact.