Where There Is Smoke There Is Fire, But The Opposite Is Problematic.

Chimney smoke
Chimney Smoke From Residential Home | Photo by pro.com

I’m sure that you have noticed that the colder winter-like weather is beginning to show up. My emphasis is on the fact that we will all need to be able to keep our homes warm during the Winter weather. October 1st began the Home Wood Heating Advisory that is prepared by LRAPA (Lane Regional Air Protection Agency). What is the Home Wood Heating Advisory and why is it so important? The Advisory is issued during the winter months because that is when it gets colder and more people heat their homes, at least in part, with wood stoves and/or fireplaces.

Too Much Visible Smoke
Too Much Visible Smoke During Red Advisory | Photo by LRAPA

Those fires produce smoke and when the air is trapped near the ground in the winter the smoke has nowhere to go, so it gets more and more dense causing breathing problems for many people. It bothers those who already have breathing issues such as asthma, emphysema, COPD, allergies, heart and lung disease, the very old, the very young, and pregnant women first. When the air gets really bad it can put everyone at risk.  What about the “air” causes all of these problems?

Wood Burning For Heat | Photo by thespruce.com

It goes back to what makes up the smoke from wood fires. The technical definition of fire as defined by Wikipedia is “the rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products.”  It’s those reaction products that we are concerned with here, particularly the smoke. Another Wikipedia definition here for smoke which is “a collection of airborne solid and liquid particulates emitted when a material undergoes combustion or pyrolysis together with the quantity of the air that is entrained or otherwise mixed into the mass.”  Wood smoke has been known to contain over 200 chemicals and compound groups and that is where the problem begins when people inhale and pull them into their lungs.

Clean Chimney Smoke
Clean Chimney Smoke During Red Advisory | Photo by LRAPA

The Home Wood Heating Advisory is issued for two reasons. First of all to alert the public to the amount of particulates in the air so you can avoid as much exposure to it as possible and secondly to let you know when the air quality is getting bad enough that you should either restrict your burning of wood products or even curtail wood burning completely until the air quality significantly improves.

According to LRAPA “there are three categories used in the Home Wood Heating Advisory:

1) Green – A Green advisory means air quality is good and burning is allowed.

2) Yellow – A Yellow advisory indicates that the air quality is deteriorating  and burning is cautioned against.

3) Red – A  Red advisory indicates that the air quality is poor and burning is prohibited. Pellet stoves may be used if they produce no visible emissions.”

The advisory is determined by taking into account current air pollution levels, the Air Quality Index, and current weather forecasts. Those found in violation of The Red Advisory can fall into one of four categories of fines from $50 to $400 per day in violation.

There are exemptions to the program: “Low income exemptions are allowed for people who meet economic need guidelines. These exemptions allow qualified individual households to heat with wood-burning devices during periods of inadequate atmospheric mixing and poor air quality. Exemptions are granted on a yearly basis to applicants who meet Oregon Housing and Community Services Department Poverty Guidelines.”

“The program is mandatory in all of Lane County” according to LRAPA. “A person is in violation of the program if their home’s chimney emits visible smoke.”

We will post the Home Wood Heating Advisory here on EDN and it will look like this.

 | Photo by
Fireplace 2 For Home Wood Heating Advisory | Photo by blogs.sch.gr

Home Wood Heating Advisory:

Eugene/Springfield: GREEN – Burning is allowed

Oakridge: GREEN – Burning is allowed.

The use of Pellet stoves is always allowed.

Data Courtesy of Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA)


Here are some tips from LRAPA on how you can help “improve air quality:

1) Burn only dry seasoned wood.

2) Burn hardwoods, such as oak, madrone, and nut and fruit woods.

3) Limit kindling to fir pine and cedar, never burn softwoods like cottonwood and poplar.

4) Burn a small, hot fire.

5) NEVER burn garbage or treated/painted wood.

6) Leave your woodstove’s damper open.

7) Use alternative heat sources such as natural gas or electricity.

8) Check your chimney for smoke. The more smoke, the more pollution.

9) Clean your chimney regularly.”

Following all of these guidelines will produce safer conditions for your home heating and cleaner air for all of us to breathe.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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