May 6, 2020

During this time of crisis many of us are looking for ways to help. From checking on neighbors to supporting local businesses, the Multnomah County community is stepping up. 

There is one more thing we can do. We can skip backyard and home ambiance fires. This action protects air quality and respiratory health. While there may be more opportunities to enjoy a fire at home, smoke from these fires is dangerous to everyone’s health, and especially to those with respiratory issues. So if it is not your only source of heat, please skip it!

Wood smoke from fires can make it harder to breathe. A study published in April highlighted the connection between historic and chronic air pollution and higher COVID-19 mortality rates at the County level.

Smoke from woodstoves, bonfires, firepits and outdoor burns includes fine particles and substances that are harmful to health and contribute to air pollution. When exposed to and breathing in smoke, people who are already at a higher risk from the worst symptoms of COVID-19 are put in a more vulnerable position. Symptoms may worsen and recovery can be more difficult. People in good health can also feel health effects from wood smoke, and may interpret those to be symptoms of COVID-19. 

Health is the top priority during this time. When you help keep our air clean, you help everyone. You can:

  • Skip the fire, unless it is your sole source of heat

  • Talk to your neighbors about skipping the fire

  • Consider getting a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) and non-ozone producing air cleaner and/or filters that can help keep your indoor air cleaner including during wildfire season

  • Continue to stay home, wash your hands, practice physical distancing, wear a face covering when needed, and take care of your mental and physical health. 

In Multnomah County, people with diseases that affect their lungs (like asthma or COVID-19), older adults, children, Latinx households, and people in lower socioeconomic conditions are at greater risk from exposure to wood smoke. Local data is also showing us that COVID-19 further highlights health disparities, with communities of color, especially Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities, disproportionately affected. 

On April 4 — in an effort to limit health risks and ease the burdens facing our healthcare system and emergency responders — environmental and public health agencies (Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon Health Authority, and the State Fire Marshal) began asking people to refrain from outdoor burning. Multnomah County has joined this request. 

As so many of us stay home to save lives during this crisis, skipping the fire to love your lungs will help protect our neighbors and community members, and improve air quality for everyone.