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Smoke Program Procedures


This page is for you if you are or work for a fire management officer (FMO) and are new to the job, or just new to Colorado.


If that's not you and you only need a simple permit for a few piles, save time by going instead to the new permittees' page. Or go directly to the simplified pile application or download other forms.



Each pile or broadcast prescribed fire in Colorado needs a smoke permit.  Permits protect air quality for health, welfare, and visibility.


Permit applicants must show that a burn can and will minimize smoke impacts on visibility and health, and must use emission-reduction techniques.  The application forms address both subjects.

If you need a Colorado prescribed fire smoke permit, or think you might but have never applied for one, contact usPlease don't waste time trying to figure this out alone.  First time through, the procedures can be complex.  Also, if you are a new burn boss in Colorado, we want to get to know you.  We will help you be sure to provide the necessary information, and will explain what you must do after you receive a permit.  If you ask (and sometimes anyway), we will come see your project as well.  Call us or anyone else who already works with Colorado prescribed fire permits.

How Colorado's smoke permits work:  Colorado's Air Pollution Control Division's (APCD's) prescribed fire permits establish in advance the conditions under which a burn may occur.  Conditions address forecasted smoke ventilation, wind direction, ignition end time, and maximum daily acres or number of piles.  They may have additional conditions as well.  Unlike several other western states, Colorado does not make daily (go/no go) decisions about individual burns.


To get a permit, call us and/or fill out an application. There are separate applications for piles and for broadcast. The application becomes part of the final permit.  Burn descriptors on the application such as number, location and size of piles are binding outer limits.  An application for a relatively high smoke risk project and/or one with complex conditions may also need to include a smoke planning map and/or unit map.  For details see the worksheets and/or guidance for non-standard permits.  To supplement what we hope is a largely self-explanatory application form, there are hover hints and (very) detailed instructions.


Timing:   It usually works well for everyone if a project's smoke permit application is issued befire the start of a burn season.  But applications are accepted any time.  We strongly discourage applications being submitted a couple days before you hope to start burning. 


Most applications are processed in about a week.  At the outer time limit, an application could be in review for up to 30 days after it is complete.  Permits are valid for (the remainder of) a calendar year.


To renew an existing permit for another year, either send us an email listing the project name(s) or resubmit the application form with any changes. We typically start processing the next calendar year's applications in early autumn.


Fees start at $100 per permit. For all federal agencies and some others, charges for smoke permits are billed once a year. Typically the bill goes to a state or regional office even if the cost comes out of your fuels budget.


Activity reporting:  There are three (!) forms to be completed in relation to a burn day:

  • 2-48 hours before ignition, send to both APCD and a local county air quality official a Notification of Ignition.
  • By 10:00 the following day, and whether or not ignition did occur, send APCD an Accomplishment Report.
  • By March 30 of the following year, send APCD an annual activity summary, whether or not any burning occurred.  In late fall we post draft annuals based on our records to date.  Or you may fill out a blank annual summary any time in advance, like when burning on a project is complete.


Agencies in Colorado's big league for prescribed fire:  Large Colorado fire programs complete a review with the Air Quality Control Commission. These 'significant users of prescribed fire' own or manage at least 10,000 acres in Colorado and apply for permits that may generate more than 10 tons of particulate matter (PM-10) per year. The Commission hearing reviews how effectively the managing agency or owner considers air quality when deciding whether to apply prescribed fire.


Two Levels of Permits, Standard and Tailored



Standard conditions - predictable, simpler, and used for most burns



  • Standard conditions are for NWCG-qualified burn bosses and other experienced fire professionals.  Other burn supervisors can request standard conditions but may initially receive tighter constraints.


  • Standard conditions for piles and broadcast embody close to the upper end of what has worked well in Colorado in the past.


Tailored conditions - negotiated, flexible, for atypical burn situations


  • Tailored conditions may be more or less restrictive than standard conditions, and most often are a combination of both.


  • Benefits including shared learning about how standard conditions should change into the future.



For more information about almost any subject mentioned on this page, see the smoke program manual.