Despite recent rains, forest and climate experts still anticipate an intense and longer than usual wildfire season in Oregon and across the Western United States. Of course, more wildfires mean more smoke and an increased possibility of poor air quality conditions.
In order to provide Oregonians and the media with the most consistent and accurate wildfire smoke-related air quality and health information available during a major wildfire, a new interagency protocol has been developed, the state Department of Environment Quality said Wednesday.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality joined together with Oregon Health Authority, the Oregon Department of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service to find ways to improve communication and coordination between public agencies when responding to severe smoke impacts from large-scale wildfires. The result of this effort is a guide for how agencies can better work together to protect public health.
“It was clear when we were discussing the major wildfires from last summer, like the Pole Creek fire in central Oregon, in addition to the fire danger, that the smoke levels also posed a serious threat to public health,” says DEQ Senior air quality specialist Brian Finneran. “We realized that in our response to these large-scale wildfires, with all the different agencies involved, at times there was some uncertainty about who was doing what, and how we should collectively respond to these events. Not only that, but local officials and the public are in a need-to-know situation about how bad the smoke levels are, and what to do. So it became clear to us that some written guidance or protocol was needed that ties all this together.”
The protocol provides guidance on tracking wildfire smoke levels, smoke forecasting, determining the health effects from smoke exposure, and lists actions the public can take to better protect themselves from smoke.
The Oregon Wildfire Response Protocol for Severe Smoke Episodes can be viewed on DEQ’s website.