Fire Behavior

Smoke rising from a draw between blue mountain ridges.
Managing smoke to minimize effects on surrounding communities is part of the prescription equation.


Fire science carefully studies the patterns and behavior of fire so that firefighters can be prepared for any situation. When planning for a prescribed burn, the fire management specialists have to consider many different factors that could influence a fire's behavior. Fire professionals review weather reports and wind patterns. Humidity levels impact the capacity for burning: too high, and the fuel won't ignite; too low, and the vegetation could be dangerously dry. Wind direction affects the movement of the fire and its smoke. Fire professionals inspect property maps to identify neighboring communities that may be affected by the smoke drift. They examine topographical maps and consult with resource specialists so that they understand the terrain and the type of vegetation present in the area. Terrain with steep slopes could have air currents that create a chimney effect and make the fire burn hotter and faster, and the slopes would be difficult for firefighters to work. Fast-burning or extremely dry vegetation can also present dangerous fire conditions. By understanding all the factors that affect wildland fire, firefighting professionals can plan prescribed burns that effectively manage the targeted natural area and keep all members of the community, including neighbors, visitors, and staff, safe.

Squirrel eating an acorn.

Fire Ecology
Nature uses fire to encourage growth of certain plant species. To learn more click here.

Firefighter in bright red helmet and yellow shirt walks along the fire line.

Fire Operations
A prescribed burn
follows a carefully designed plan. For more about prescribed fire, click here.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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Shenandoah National Park
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Luray, VA 22835


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