Environmental Management

, Volume 54, Issue 3, pp 571–582 | Cite as

Communicating About Smoke from Wildland Fire: Challenges and Opportunities for Managers

  • Christine S. OlsenEmail author
  • Danielle K. Mazzotta
  • Eric Toman
  • A. Paige Fischer


Wildland fire and associated management efforts are dominant topics in natural resource fields. Smoke from fires can be a nuisance and pose serious health risks and aggravate pre-existing health conditions. When it results in reduced visibility near roadways, smoke can also pose hazardous driving conditions and reduce the scenic value of vistas. Communicating about smoke, whether in the preparation phases before a planned burn or during a wildfire event, can enable those at risk to make informed decisions to minimize their exposure to smoke or choose alternate activities that mitigate smoke completely. To date, very little research has been completed on the social aspects of smoke, such as communication or public perceptions. Here, we present findings from an exploratory study that examined challenges and opportunities related to communication (within agencies or to the public) for management of smoke from wildland fires. Interviews were conducted in California, Oregon, Montana, and South Carolina among a purposive sample of individuals, who are involved in fire or smoke management. Findings indicate that smoke poses several challenges to management agencies. Findings also provide insight into potential strategies to address such challenges by improving communication in both inter- and intra-agency situations as well as with members of the public. In particular, prioritizing fire and smoke-related communication within agencies, allocating agency resources specifically for training in communication and outreach endeavors, taking advantage of existing resources including informal social networks among the public, and building long-term relationships both between agencies and with the public were viewed as effective.


Wildland fire Wildfire Smoke Prescribed fire Public acceptance Tolerance 



The authors thank the interview participants for their contributions to this research, Jeff Shindler and Devyani Singh for their assistance during the interview process, and Keith Olsen for the cartographic image. The Joint Fire Science Program and the Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center provided financial support for this research.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

This research included human subjects. It was approved by the Oregon State University Institutional Review Board, and complies with current laws in the United States.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York (outside the USA) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christine S. Olsen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Danielle K. Mazzotta
    • 2
  • Eric Toman
    • 3
  • A. Paige Fischer
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Forest Ecosystems & SocietyOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  2. 2.Idaho Conservation LeagueKetchumUSA
  3. 3.School of Environment and Natural ResourcesThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  4. 4.School of Natural Resources and EnvironmentUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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