Smoke Awareness in Nebraska
Air Quality Impacts from Prescribed Burning
Smoke from prescribed burning and wildfires can affect the air quality in Nebraska. The following resources provide additional information on air quality, prescribed burning and wildfires, and steps to take when the air quality is affected by smoke.
How will I know if the air quality is impacted?
The Nebraska Department of HHealth and Human Services (DHHS), in coordination with NDEE and health departments/districts across the state, issues advisories when air quality impacts are anticipated. This public advisory system is used to notify the public of potential air quality impacts from fires so individuals can take proper precautions to protect their health.
A news release announcing the activation of the Smoke Advisory System is available through this link: “Smoke Advisory System Activated for 2023.”
Weekly Updates on Prescribed Burning - As part of its Smoke Management Plan, the State of Kansas evaluates how the impact of burning could affect populated areas in the region, including in Nebraska. Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) provides weekly updates during the prescribed burn season (March and April), including forecasts for the upcoming weekend.
Wildfire Updates - Information regarding current wildfires affecting the air quality in Nebraska will be posted as necessary. For more information, please tune in to your local news station, or visit the AirNow Current Fire conditions webpage.
Check Nebraska’s Air Forecast
For current air quality conditions and forecast for Nebraska, please visit the EPA’s Air now website:
AirNow – Conditions and Forecast *
Particpate in Citizen Science - SmokeSense App
For information on the SmokeSense app and EPA study, please visit the EPA SmokeSense website.*
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of adverse reactions to smoke can include:
A scratchy throat
Shortness of breath
A runny nose
People with congestive heart failure, angina, COPD, emphysema or asthma are at higher risk of having health problems. Older adults may be more affected because of possible health issues, as are young children because their airways are still developing.
Health officials recommend the following steps to protect your health on days when smoke is present:
- Limit or avoid strenuous outdoor activity.
- People with respiratory or heart-related illnesses should remain indoors.
- Stay indoors if possible and keep windows and doors closed. Run an air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If you do not have an air conditioner and if it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere.
- Do not add to indoor pollution. When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns, such as candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves. Do not vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Do not smoke, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.
What is Prescribed Burning?
Prescribed burning is the intentional burning of a specific plot of land for the purposes of managing or restoring vegetation. The use of prescribed fires appears to be increasing throughout the U.S. and within Nebraska. Although prescribed fires do not completely duplicate natural wildfires, they do accomplish many of the same results:
- destruction of invasive species such as Eastern Red Cedar and locust trees,
- increasing species diversity with respect to native long- and mixed-grass prairie species, and
- release of nutrients back into the soil to promote growth of prairie grasses and forbs.
More information on Prescribed Burning
Wildfires are becoming more common in the Plains region of the U.S. Nebraska experienced a number of wildfires in 2022, some which were quite large, and the state’s air quality can be impacted by fires occurring in the state as well as large wildfires in other states. Most wildfires are human-caused, but many occur due to lightning strikes, and large wildfires can even generate unique weather conditions that may include lightning, rain, wind, and “fire tornadoes”.
More information on Wildfires
Additional Resources and Links
The AirNow Fire and Smoke map shows locations of fires, smoke, and current air quality conditions most of North America. Click on the Layers icon in the upper right corner to select what you see on the map.
The National Weather Service provides a number of fire and incident maps and forecasts for weather conditions that increase fire risk. When the main page appears, scroll down to the blue bar marked “Wildfire Information”, click on the “+” and select “Current Large Incidents” to see the current fires on the map.
InciWeb is an interagency all-risk incident information management system that provides a map of recent incidents (fires, floods, etc.) and information regarding their status. Click on the incident icon to access information about that specific incident. Click on the Filter icon to select the type of incidents you see on the map.
The National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC) generates a monthly Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for the U.S showing the predicted risk for wildland fire (above normal, below normal, or normal) for areas in the U.S.
The Drought Monitor provides maps and data to the public on drought conditions in the United States. This link shows the current drought map and data for Nebraska (drought maps are updated each Thursday).
* This document contains links to non-NDEE websites; these links will open in a new tab or window.