Focus On Air

Wildfires and Impacts in Nebraska

This information is provided by the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy to assist the public and regulated community.

Wildfires are unplanned fires that burn in natural areas, which include grasslands, forests, and other environments, including those areas where people live. These fires can be caused by humans and natural causes (such as lightning), and affect every state in the U.S. The majority of wildfires are attributed to human causes, including uncontrolled campfires, burning brush or debris, sparks from equipment and vehicles, discarded smoking materials, and arson.

Wildfires can affect Nebraska’s air quality, even from a great distance from the state. Air quality impacts from wildfires can occur at any time of the year and may persist over a period of days, depending on weather patterns.

The 2023 Wildfire Season
Nebraska’s air quality has been impacted by wildfires in 2023. Impacts are ongoing and are attributed to fires in other states and Canada. Drought conditions have persisted in eastern and central Nebraska and harvest and hunting activities can present an increased risk for wildfires.
In 2022, Nebraska experienced a significant number of wildfires, due to drought conditions and increased wildfire risk statewide. Historically, wildfire season in Nebraska ranged from early summer through mid-autumn, but in recent years the threat of wildfires has become year-round.

Air quality impacts from wildfire smoke can extend over a large area and impact both rural and urban communities at any time of the year. Likewise, wildfires burning in areas located hundreds (or thousands) of miles from Nebraska – such as those on the west coast or in Canada – can produce smoke that ultimately impacts our air quality.

How can I evaluate the impact of smoke in the air?

· Check the AQI – current conditions and the forecast are available on EPA’s AirNow website ( For data from Nebraska monitors and sensors, please visit - click on the individual monitor or sensor to open the data window and scroll for data and info. Please note that data from past smoke incidents indicate that the AirNow forecasts lack some accuracy in relating current air quality conditions to the 24-hour average conditions.

· Why the AQI dial and map might not match

· Check local health agency and NDEE webpages and social media for updates.

· Use your senses. Is the air hazy? Does it smell smoky? Elevated concentrations of PM2.5 produce a visible haze that may indicate smoke impact before you smell the odor of smoke.

· Past incidents tend to follow a similar pattern:

· Prescribed burning – smoke tends to accumulate in the late afternoon or evening hours, is most noticeable in the early morning hours, and then dissipates in mid-late morning as temperatures increase.

· Wildfires – smoke may accumulate at any time of the day, and can be persistent and linger, sometimes over a period of days.

· Plan activities accordingly to avoid periods of highest PM2.5 and smoke impacts using the AQI table as a guide.

NDEE is committed to working with other states and sources of smoke to minimize and, if possible, eliminate adverse impacts. Agency activities include monitoring the state’s air quality and wildfire incidents, in coordination with other state and local agencies to address smoke impacts. Comments, suggestions and questions regarding air quality issues and agency activities are welcomed. For more information, contact NDEE at (402) 471-2186, or toll free at 1-877-253-2603; e-mail –


External resources

Wildfire Basics

This site provides basic facts and information about wildfires.

Airnow Wildfire page

This site provides links to the Airnow map and information for before, during, and after a wildfire.

Airnow Wildfire Guide Factsheets

This site provides factsheets for a number of topics, including preparing for fire season, reducing exposure to smoke and ash, and indoor air filtration.

Preparation 101 - Wildfires

This site provides information on evacuation during wildfire and links to homeowner’s guides for wildfire preparation and response.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) – Firewise USA

This site provides information on prevention and actions that homeowners and residents can take to make their home and property safer.

Nebraska Forest Service – Wildfire Risk

This site provides a Nebraska fire weather forecast map (developed by NWS) for today, tomorrow, and the following day.

Wildfire Management

This site provides current wildfire conditions, one-day fire outlook, and AirNow Air Quality Index (AQI), key issues, and drought impacts on wildfire management.

U.S. Forest Service – Nebraska Fire Management

This site provides information on current fires, fire restrictions, and national incidents.

NEMA – Wildland Fires

This links to the Nebraska Fire Information Center on current fires.