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Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Megan M. Johnson; Fernando Garcia-Menendez
Publication Date: 2023

Background: Prescribed fire is a land management tool used extensively across the United States. Owing to health and safety risks, smoke emitted by burns requires appropriate management. Smoke modelling tools are often used to mitigate air pollution impacts. However, direct comparisons of tools’ predictions are lacking.

Aims: We compared three tools commonly used to plan prescribed burning projects: the Simple Smoke Screening Tool, VSmoke and HYSPLIT.

Methods: We used each tool to model smoke dispersion from prescribed burns conducted by the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation over a year. We assessed similarity among the tools’ predicted smoke fields, areas of concern and potential population impacts.

Key results: The total smoke area predicted by the tools differs by thousands of square kilometres and, as such, spatial agreement was low. When translated into numbers of residents potentially exposed to smoke, tool estimates can vary by an order of magnitude.

Conclusions: Our analysis of an operational burning program suggests that the differences among the tools are significant and inconsistent.

Implications: While our analysis shows that improved and more consistent smoke modelling tools could better support land management, clear guidelines on how to apply their predictions are also necessary to obtain these benefits.

Online Links
Citation: Johnson, Megan M.; Garcia-Menendez, Fernando. 2023. A comparison of smoke modelling tools used to mitigate air quality impacts from prescribed burning. International Journal of Wildland Fire 32(7):1162-1173.

Cataloging Information

  • air pollution
  • dispersion modelling
  • HYSPLIT - Hybrid Single-Particle Lagrangian Integrated Trajectory
  • North Carolina
  • PM - particulate matter
  • prescribed burn
  • Simple Smoke Screening model
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Record Maintained By: FRAMES Staff (
FRAMES Record Number: 68432