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Smoke Management Program FAQs
Who regulates open field burning and propane flaming in Oregon?
The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) regulates the burning of grass and cereal grain residue in the Willamette Valley. ODA only regulates this type of burning as directed by Oregon Administrative Rules Chapter 603 Division 77 and Chapter 837 Division 110.

Who regulates field burning outside of the Willamette Valley?
The burning of grass and cereal grain residue outside of the Willamette Valley is regulated by county ordinance. Currently, Jefferson, Union, and Umatilla counties operate smoke management programs for open field burning.

What is agricultural burning?
Agricultural burning is the burning of any agricultural waste generated by an "agricultural operation" that uses or intends to use land primarily for the purpose of obtaining profit by raising, harvesting, and selling crops or animals. Prohibited materials such as tires can not be burned, even in an agricultural setting.

You are an agricultural operator, and can agricultural burn, if you make your primary living from the farm or file your tax return as a farmer or grower. If you don't make your primary living from the agricultural operation, you are a backyard burner and subject to the rules of backyard burning.

Backyard burning is allowed in the Willamette Valley between October 1 through December 15, and March 1 through June 15.

Local fire districts may also require special permits for all types of burning. Be sure to contact your local fire district prior to burning.

Who regulates slash burning?
The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) is responsible for managing the smoke from slash burning. ODF operates under a smoke management plan to try to minimize smoke intrusions into the Willamette Valley and other areas.

Who regulates all other types of burning?
The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regulates all other types of burning in Oregon including commercial, construction, demolition, domestic, and industrial. For the definition of these other types of burning, visit DEQ's burning regulations Web site.

Wasn't open field burning in the Willamette Valley phased out?
State field burning laws and regulations were the subject of considerable debate and revision throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In 1980, state law limited the field burning to 250,000 acres. 
In 1991, legislation enacted a reduction (phasedown) in acreage to be open field burned in the Willamette Valley. The phasedown concluded in 1998 with 40,000 acres of regular limitation and 25,000 acres of identified species and steep terrain (65,000 acres total) allowed to be open field burned. In 2009, legislation further reduced acreage to be open field burned to 15,000 acres in specific areas of the Willamette Valley, as defined in ORS 468A.

Are there alternatives to open field burning?
Yes. One alternative is to bale the straw. Hundreds of thousands of tons of Willamette Valley straw are shipped overseas each year for livestock feed.

What meteorological factors are considered when field burning?
The key to limiting the impact of field burning on human activity is to burn only when the smoke will rise rapidly and move away from populated areas.
We continually monitor weather conditions both at the surface and aloft to determine if and when it is appropriate to burn.
The day begins in the Oregon Agricultural Weather Center, with an analysis of the morning weather balloon sounding from the Salem Airport. The balloon instrument package measures temperature and humidity as it ascends. By tracking the movement of the balloon, we can calculate wind direction and speed in the atmosphere above the ground. By analyzing temperature and humidity, we can determine the stability of the lower layers of the atmosphere and assess the potential height of smoke rise, and the likely direction of smoke movement and dispersion.
Weather patterns can, and usually do, change during the day. Therefore, a constant watch of weather conditions continues from early in the morning through fires-out time in the early evening. Weather data from airports, mountain fire-weather stations, Department of Transportation road-weather monitoring sites and DEQ air-quality monitoring sites is all assimilated by various computer programs in the Weather Center - all with an eye to making accurate short-term forecasts of wind and smoke plume rise heights.
Portland´s National Weather Service Doppler radar gives us information about winds aloft. Even when the air is clear, the radar is so powerful that it can monitor winds by reflecting radar energy off dust, smoke, bugs, and birds.
Direct observations of wind speed and direction from the surface to approximately 10,000 feet are made by ODA personnel using "pilot balloons." These small gas-filled balloons are optically tracked from the roof of the Agriculture Building in Salem,  and in the Sublimity area.
Computer models, mathematical simulations, of the atmosphere are run to determine how wind and stability patterns might change throughout the day.
Field coordinators and inspectors in the field are in constant radio contact with the ODA Oregon Agricultural Weather Center, relaying their observations of wind patterns and smoke plume movement to further refine the hour-by-hour forecasts.
If conditions look good, a field coordinator will authorize a test fire to confirm adequate smoke rise, smoke transport, wind direction, and smoke dispersion characteristics.
While fires are burning, the ODA Oregon Agricultural Weather Center monitors air quality sensors (nephelometers) throughout the valley to confirm that the smoke is rising and moving away from populated areas.
Burning progress is altered or curtailed as conditions dictate.

How is the amount and location of burning determined each day?
Open burning in the Willamette Valley is limited by frequent atmospheric inversions and prevailing northerly winds that tend to inhibit the escape of smoke from the area. Open burning is allowed when the smoke can be expected to rise to a satisfactory height and be carried away from the Willamette Valley on the shortest possible trajectory. Field burning is typically done in the central and eastern counties, (Clackamas, Marion, and a small part of Linn) when the smoke will drift to the east. This often occurs in advance of a storm when winds are strong, there are no inversions, and the atmosphere is turbulent and capable of dispersing field burning smoke.

Why can't burning be done all at once or prescheduled?
State and federal laws would prohibit such significant, uncontrolled emission of pollutants. Residents would find the resulting smoke unbearable and growers are not capable of doing all the burning at once. Fire districts would have difficulty controlling escaped fires.

How can I find out if burning is going to happen?
Sign up for our burning notification email subscription!
You can also call the Smoke Management Program office in Salem at (503) 986-4701. In some cases, the local fire district may be able to provide information.

Does complaining do any good?
Yes! Although ODA does have observers and measuring devices that constantly monitor air quality, comments and complaints provide supplemental information on the extent and location of smoke problems. Complaints are tabulated and reported to the Governor's office each week during the season.
Salem Comment Line: (503) 986-4709

What is being done to solve the smoke problem over the long run?
The state legislature has determined that agriculture is an important industry in the state and has passed laws recognizing the necessity of open field burning as the only viable way for the grass seed industry to ensure a healthy crop.