U.S. Joint Fire Science Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Fire Science Brief, Issue 71, October 2009


US government work.


The Coastal Plain of North Carolina contains some of the last remaining vestiges of a wetland forest ecosystem characterized by organic soils ranging from a few inches to eight or more feet deep. When fi re occurs in this system, it can result in smoldering combustion far down into the peat-like soil, which may burn for weeks or even months. Carefully planned and implemented prescribed fire can reduce the fuel load and risk of wildfire, but it also creates emissions of pollutants, including particulate matter and trace gases. Computer models that predict smoke behavior were developed in western lands with mineral, not organic soils. Recent research in the North Carolina Coastal Plain has begun to fine tune the models to account for the flat topography of the area, the unique meteorological conditions created by the interface between the ocean and land, and the organic soils found throughout the Coastal Plain of the eastern and Gulf coasts. These adapted models will help managers minimize the hazards of smoke and trace gases, which can blanket nearby roadways, be transported long distances, and present a health hazard to people. Ideally, prescribed fires consume fine litter and small diameter fuels without igniting the organic soil horizon, during times when meteorological conditions will send the smoke high into the atmosphere.