Amending Oregon’s Air Quality Rules to Allow More Prescribed Fire

A Natural Resource Policy Brief

By: Brittany West, Garrett Carpenter, Josh Wood and Kolton Vickers

Fast Facts:
  • Serious need to reduce fuel loads
  • Untreated fuels when burned create more hazardous conditions for public and firefighters
  • Prescribed burning much more cost efficient than letting small fires escape into large fires
  • Revising current regulations would allow for managers to properly burn more easily

It is difficult to conduct prescribed fires in Oregon due to the state’s strict air quality regulations. While the regulations do ensure a high level of air quality in the state, they also severely restrict prescribed burning, which is critical for safety and forest health. While prescribed fires do create smoke, when compared to wildfire smoke it has a much lower impact on air quality and human health. This is because managers have no control over the conditions when a wildfire starts, which often means wildfires are much bigger and do not occur during favourable weather (Berger et al., 2019).

Evidence of the significant impact wildfires have on air quality can be seen in the air quality data from 2018, in which 93% of all poor air quality days are as a result of wildfires (Burns and Miller, 2019). In contrast to prescribed fires, wildfires generally last longer and consume more vegetation per acre, which also means they generate more smoke (Berger et al., 2019).

To combat this air quality barrier, Oregon approved a policy for new air quality rules to allow more prescribed fire within the state, attempting to address these issues around executing prescribed fire operations. The revised air quality rules allow some smoke from prescribed burning, as long as it measures well below levels considered harmful for sensitive groups. 

There is more that can, and needs to be done to combat this air quality barrier. The hourly limit in the new air quality rules needs to be removed, or lessened, to allow more prescribed burn flexibility, and communities need to become more prepared for smoke to ensure the health and safety of the public. Smoke Sensitive Receptor Areas, which are areas designated for the highest level of protection under the Smoke Management Plan, should also become more prepared for any smoke that may enter the area. Being prepared to deal with smoke from prescribed fire is a key part of allowing them to be implemented without the serious health implications of any potential smoke.

  • The hourly limit needs to be removed, or lessened, to allow more prescribed burn flexibility.
  • Community Response Plans (CRP) need to be developed in every Oregon community, to ensure the health and safety of the public, preparing them for any unhealthy air quality days produced by prescribed fires.
  • Applicable SSRA’s create a similar response plan which could be labeled as Sensitive Area Response Plans (SARP).



Burns, J. (2019, January 25). Oregon Approves New Air Quality Rules To Allow More Prescribed Fire. Retrieved from

Burns, J., & Miller, M. (2019, June 25). Change To Oregon Smoke Rules Seeing Early Results For Prescribed Burns. Retrieved from  

Berger, C., Fitzgerald, S. A., Leavell, D., & Peterson, J. (2018). Fire FAQs—Air quality impacts from prescribed fire and wildfire: How do they compare? OSU Extension CatalogEM 9203.

Division of Forestry Smoke Management Rules, OAR 629-048-0001 through 629-048-0500

Ford, W. M., Wv, P., Russell, K. R., & Moorman, C. E. (2000). The Role of Fire in Nongame Wildlife Management and Community Restoration: Traditional Uses and New Directions (Workshop Proceedings NE-288; p. 152). Forest Service: Northeastern Research Station.

Johnson, A. S., & Hale, P. E. (2000). The Historical Foundations of Prescribed Burning for Wildlife: A Southeastern Perspect. The Role of Fire in Nongame Wildlife Management and Community Restoration: Traditional Uses and New Directions.