Air-quality rules have provisions for public agencies

How is it that firefighters battling wildfires are allowed to do "back burning" of fire lines even though the smoke that they are creating can help cause unhealthy air here in the valley?

I understand that is a good tool to fight fires, but why is it they can help ruin air quality when the rest of us are banned from burning anything?

— Steven F., via email

You pose an interesting conundrum here, Steven, that we at Since You Asked have wondered about ourselves over the years.

"Back burning" is the firefighters' tool in which they create a fire line and then used controlled burns to remove the grass, brush and other burnable fuels between the line and the encroaching fire. It's a technique that helps widen fire lines and keep wildfires in check.

"Obviously, the back-burning is to control the extent of the fire," says Byron Peterson, a natural resources specialist who handles air-quality issues for the state Department of Environmental Quality in Medford. "If you don't do it, you could certainly end up with worse air quality."

For that reason, DEQ air-quality rules exempt public agencies such as the Oregon Department of Forestry from burning rules if they are deemed necessary to help weed abatement, prevent or eliminate a fire hazard or to fight fires.

The language can be found in Oregon Administrative Rule 340-264-0040, paragraph three.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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