- Vegetation indices (VIs) such as the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) are widely used for assessing vegetation cover and condition. One of the NDVI's significant disadvantages is its sensitivity to aerosols in the atmosphere, hence several atmospherically resistant VIs were formulated using the difference in the radiance between the blue and the red spectral bands. The state‐of‐the‐art atmospherically resistant VI, which is a standard Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) product, together with the NDVI, is the Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI). A different approach introduced the Aerosol‐free Vegetation Index (AFRI) that is based on the correlation between the shortwave infrared (SWIR) and the visible red bands. The AFRI main advantage is in penetrating an opaque atmosphere influenced by biomass burning smoke, without the need for explicit correction for the aerosol effect. The objective of this research was to compare the performance of these three VIs under smoke conditions. The AFRI was applied to the 2.1 µm SWIR channel of the MODIS sensor onboard the Earth Observing System (EOS) Terra and Aqua satellites in order to assess its functionality on these imaging platforms. The AFRI performance was compared with those of NDVI and EVI. All VIs were calculated on images with and without present smoke, using the surface‐reflectance MODIS product, for three case studies of fires in Arizona, California, and Zambia. The MODIS Fire Product was embedded on the images in order to identify the exact location of the active fires. Although good correlations were observed between all VIs in the absence of smoke (in the Arizona case R 2 = 0.86, 0.77, 0.88 for the NDVI–EVI, AFRI–EVI, and AFRI–NDVI, respectively) under smoke conditions a high correlation was maintained between the NDVI and the EVI, while low correlations were found for the AFRI–EVI and AFRI–NDVI (0.21 and 0.16, for the Arizona case, respectively). A time series of MODIS images recorded over Zambia during the summer of 2000 was tested and showed high NDVI fluctuations during the study period due to oscillations in aerosol optical thickness values despite application of aerosol corrections on the images. In contrast, the AFRI showed smoother variations and managed to better assess the vegetation condition. It is concluded that, beneath the biomass burning smoke, the AFRI is more effective than the EVI in observing the vegetation conditions.