Writing a burn plan

Share Tweet Email

Smoke impacts are just one of numerous factors that go into writing a good burn plan. A burn plan provides a framework for considering all relevant components of a burn. Key components of a burn plan are:

  1. Map. A map of the area to be burned (burn unit) facilitates both planning and communicating the plan to others. The map should show hazards, firing lines, safety zones and escape routes, roads, and location of nearby houses. Below is an example of a burn plan map (created by Toni Flax, NRCS range conservationist).

Notice that the map extends beyond the borders of the area to be burned. It’s important to consider what’s around the fire as well as the burn unit itself. In this instance, the road on the west side of the burn unit needs to be taken into consideration to avoid causing traffic accidents. The quarry on the south side of the burn unit makes a good safety zone if needed, due to the lack of flammable vegetation.

Deployment of crew and vehicles is also marked on the map. The green squares show where water vehicles are stationed prior to ignition. These fire suppression vehicles will move as necessary.

The red arrows indicate the pattern of planned ignition (fireline). Ignition deployment takes into account the direction in which you want the fire to burn, the wind direction, topography, and avoidance of hazards. In order to avoid placing smoke into the city directly north of this burn unit, a north wind is prescribed.

In this example, the ignition begins on the south side. Igniters proceed both east and west from the ignition point, starting backfires that will create a firebreak for the headfire. Gradually the unit is encircled and burns back into areas previously lit. This is a very common type of fire called a ring fire.

  1. Burn Objectives. It is important to state why you are burning so you know how to conduct the burn and afterwards to determine if you’ve achieved your objectives. 
  2. Weather conditions needed. Weather conditions considered safe for prescribed burns are given in the table below. Most prescribed burns should be conducted within these parameters. Smoke management is part of the weather considerations.


Weather Factor


Wind Speed

5-15 mpg, steady

Relative Humidity


Air Temperature


Cloud Cover

Clear to 70%

Haines Index


Mixing Height

1800 ft or higher

Transport Wind Speed

8-20 mph

  1. Firebreaks. Location and preparation method of firebreaks should be described.
  2. Hazards. Hazards such as fences, roads, and utility lines should be noted and included in the plan. There are many types of hazards and they are best found by looking at an aerial map and by actually driving/walking across the burn unit.
  3. Equipment. A variety of equipment will be needed. Careful consideration should be made to ensure sufficient equipment of the right type in the right location when it is needed.
  4. Crew. The number and role of people on the fire should be determined.
  5. Contingency Plan. If a fire should escape, having a plan of action thought out in advance can save critical time in responding to the situation.
  6. Notification List. Landowners and residents near a burn unit should be notified as part of the planning process. 


The overall goal of a burn plan is to ensure that the burn is well-coordinated, that burn objectives are met, and that property and crew are unharmed. 

For more information on prescribed burning, attend one of the numerous Joint-Agency Prescribed Burning Workshops held each year around Kansas during the winter months. The notebook for the class can be found at http://ksfire.org/p.aspx?tabid=18 or a paper copy can be purchased for $10. The ksfire website is currently in a state of transition, with the new site due to come on line next week. It will have the most current version of the burn notebook, which is located on the Education page of the website.


A burn plan can reduce liability for two reasons. First, it forces you to think through how you intend to burn, taking into consideration numerous factors that will influence the burn and the safety of the crew. This greatly reduces chances of an escape. Secondly, in case of escape, it provides evidence that you followed due diligence in conducting your burn.  This can be important if the case goes to court.

Prescribed burning insurance is provided to many agricultural producers and landowners through their farm policies, but it’s always best to check with an insurance agent about your specific policy. The Bramlett Agency has developed a new policy this winter at the request of The Samuel Roberts Nobel Foundation specifically to cover prescribed burning activities not covered by a typical policy. See: http://www.bramlettagency.com/category.aspx?id=MISC6 

This policy provides coverage for burn association members and others who assist with burns not on their own property.


Carol Blocksome, Range Management Specialist

Walt Fick, Range Management Specialist