New rules go into effect governing smoke from controlled burns

SALEM, Ore. — As agencies prepare for the upcoming fire season by conducting controlled burns, new rules are going into effect surrounding the smoke they put off.

In January, the new rules were adopted by the Oregon Board of Forestry and approved by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.  The new rules come just in time for the spring burning season.

The new guidelines allow for more prescribed burning and more smoke to be allowed in urban areas.  However, health officials will be monitoring the smoke to ensure it doesn’t rise to the level of unhealthy for sensitive groups.

“It was really important to see if we could get those rules changed and now they have,” said Brian Ballou, Public Information Officer with Oregon Department of Forestry. “The rule was that if there was any visible smoke going into these populated areas, then the burning had to be shut off. Now, they can have some lingering light smoke,” he said.

ODF said the revised rules continue to meet federal air quality standards but have changed the measurement.  Studies will be conducted for vulnerable populations during two time periods – a one-hour average and a 24-hour average which replaces the prior definition which was zero visible smoke.

ODF and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality are working with the Oregon Health Authority to identify where those people are and work with them on a response plan like bringing physical education classes indoors.

According to ODF, controlled burns were set on more than 180,000 acres in Oregon in 2018, totaling 1.3 million tons of debris.

“It gives people doing prescribed burning little bit more opportunity to finish their burning projects,” Ballou said.

The rule changes come after a year and a half review by a committee made up of forest landowners, public health representatives, the American Lung Association, forest collaboratives and environmentalist groups, county and city elected officials, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and a tribal representative.

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