Smoke Signals Determine Strategies and Tactics

Throughout history, many cultures have used smoke to communicate. Firefighters can also read smoke to determine fireground strategies.


Smoke that is exiting the structure from multiple openings with the same color and velocity means the fire is deep-seated.

There are a number of variables that factor into smoke reading like weather conditions and wind speed, he said.

Rate of change in color and volume can mean the fire is getting worse more quickly than anticipated, he said, noting that experience is the best way to learn smoke reading.

Above all else, Dodson said, firefighters and incident commanders need to use their best judgment when reading smoke and committing firefighters to assignments. Smoke reading is just one tool to help forecast what might happen to a fire and it is not absolute.

“We have to remember that reading smoke is an art, not really a science, although there is science involved,” Dodson said. “As an art, it’s something that has to be learned and practiced.”