March 9, 2021

March 1 marked the end of Multnomah County's 2020-2021 wood smoke season, in effect each year from Oct. 1 through March 1. Health officials issued 34 voluntary no-burn advisories (yellow days) and zero mandatory no-burn orders (red days) and received 84 complaints regarding wood burning. 

This was the County’s third full season under an ordinance that passed in 2018.

During those months when the ordinance is in effect, homeowners, renters and businesses in Multnomah County cannot use wood stoves, fireplaces or burn outdoors on days when the air quality is forecasted to be poor. That’s because wood smoke from home heating accounts for more than half of our fine particle pollution on the average winter day. 

“Burning wood, even though it seems sustainable, contributes to air pollution,” said environmental health specialist Nadège Dubuisson. “Of course, in an emergency we want you to stay warm. But for most people, most of the time, there’s an alternative.”

While the official winter wood smoke ordinance has come to an end, the risk has not. Inversions are less frequent as the weather warms, but wood smoke is nonetheless a pollutant and wildfire season is fast approaching. Transportation and industry still has its place on the pedestal of air pollutants. And as people find ways to connect, gathering outside for a bonfire has been a popular activity to cope with our COVID isolation.

Dubuisson said she would love to see people get in the habit of checking the air quality before deciding to engage in any activity that could contribute to air pollution. This might include mowing your lawn, unnecessary car trips, or building an ambiance fire. That’s because poor air quality doesn’t stop on March 1st. 

The day after the county’s winter wood smoke season ended, air quality remained moderate. 

“It was lousy air quality. It would have been a yellow day if the ordinance was still in effect,” said Brendon Haggerty, interim supervisor of the county’s Healthy Homes and Communities program. “That’s a good example that shows how an end to the season doesn’t mean the risk is gone. It’s still a good idea to check the air quality before you burn.”

Sign up here for winter wood burning restriction alerts in Multnomah County

Skip the Fire, Love Your Lungs

Every year, Multnomah County regulates wood smoke during the cooler months because wood smoke from home heating accounts for more than half of our fine particle pollution on the average winter day. The air quality can be especially poor during days of still air and temperature inversions — when cold air is trapped close to the earth. 

The ordinance helps protect people who are most vulnerable to poor air quality — children, seniors and people with asthma and other serious breathing conditions. Today, however, the County is entering its 13th month of a global pandemic of COVID-19 that is especially harmful to people with underlying health conditions.

So health officials encourage everyone to skip all unnecessary fires to support neighbors with conditions that make it more difficult to breathe in less healthy air. 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. 

Complete this interest form for your free “Skip the Fire, Love Your Lungs” lawn sign.

Actions You Can Take

Wood smoke resources

  • If you must burn, during an emergency or as your source of heat, please Burn Wise
  • For complaints between March 2 - Sep 31, call the Oregon DEQ at 1-888-997-7888.
  • To check air quality in your area, visit DEQ’s air quality map or download OregonAir app.
  • Get prepared and check guidance about heat and wildfire smoke before the Summer.