Smoky summers have become a real concern in recent years, with wildfires spreading thick smoke far and wide. 

But winter used to be the season of concern for smoke, and still is.  Several communities in the region still issue daily advisories on burning wood in stoves and fireplaces, because small smoke particles (PM 2.5) can linger in the air when there's little wind. 

The Oregon Environmental Council is directing attention to the ongoing issue of winter wood smoke. 

Skeez / Pixabay

Most of this summer has been relatively mild, but memories of large fires and widespread smoke are still fresh from the last two years. 

Jackson County commissioners put some money and political muscle into a campaign to convince the federal government to fully supress all wildfires.  The feds own more than half of all the land in the county. 

The campaign includes video components and a petition to Congress. 

Geoffrey Riley | JPR News

The last few fire seasons were hard on everybody who got caught in the smoke.  And that was nearly everybody in our region, at some point in the summer. 

The impact is that much greater on people who already had breathing issues like COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. 

Reporter Robin Epley at the Chico Enterprise-Record researched the issue for a podcast series called "Inhaled." 


It's not smoky in the region as June comes to a close, but we should probably add the word "yet."  Summer has featured a great deal of wildfire and smoke in recent years, and we're all bracing for more. 

Oregon's two U.S. Senators introduced new legislation recently to provide more help to communities and individuals that get smoked-in.  The Wildfire Smoke Relief Act of 2019 is one of a handful of pieces introduced by Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. 

The last few fire seasons have a lot of people thinking about smoke.  And one issue raised is the possibility of more controlled burns during the non-fire season. 

That would likely mean a bit of smoke in the fall, winter, and spring, in the hope of a lot LESS smoke in the summer.  Stanford University weighs in with a recent study that shows wildfire smoke is worse for children than the smoke from controlled burns.  

Geoffrey Riley

Even if the wet winter produces a light fire season and a relatively smoke-free summer, there are perceptions to counter.  Our region got a reputation over the last few years as a place where wildfires get big and destructive, and smoke collects at unhealthy levels. 

This creates issues for local residents and the tourism business, a mainstay of the region's economy.  Travel Southern Oregon and Southern Oregon University joined forces for a marketing study examining tourist perceptions of wildfire smoke. 


Just talking about smoke from fires can make people uneasy in our region.  The last few fire seasons have featured smoke hanging around--at unhealthy levels--for weeks at a time. 

The state of Oregon just enacted new rules for its smoke management program, which deals with prescribed burns in the forest.  But the rules also have a bearing on notification of smoke from wildfires. 

Nick Yonker manages the Smoke Management Program for the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF).  Michael Orman runs the Air Planning Program at the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). 


The wildfires in our region produce smoke and concerns about the smoke, mostly about breathing it.  But we've explored the issue of "smoke taint" on wine grapes as well. 

And there are additional concerns about what the wildfire smoke might deposit on other fruits and vegetables growing on farms and in gardens.  Will the lettuce or the tomatoes make you sick? 

Probably not, says a preliminary review produced by citizen science out of the University of California Cooperative Extension in Sonoma County. 

Liam Moriarty/JPR News

West Coast businesses that depend on the summertime tourist dollar took a big hit from this years’ wildfires and smoke.

The same thing happened last year. And two years before that. Now, the idea that smoky summers may become the norm is beginning to take hold, and tourist operators -- and the towns that rely on them -- are looking for ways to adapt.

Geoffrey Riley/JPR News

The tourism business is taking a pounding in the region this year.  Even the people who love living here don't want to stick around when the wildfire smoke gets too thick. 

Outdoor events have been cancelled, and visitors have voluntarily cancelled many more. 

So how do you convince visitors to follow through on planned visits?  That's an question the Ashland Chamber of Commerce has been mulling, along with the people at Travel Southern Oregon

The warnings about heart disease went onto cigarette packages decades ago.  Smoking can lead to heart disease; it's a clear link. 

And the last several summers have offered a few cigarettes' worth of smoke from wildfires to most people living in our region.  With predictable results: a spike in heart- and stroke-related visits to hospital emergency rooms. 

Researchers at the federal EPA and the University of California-San Francisco pulled in the data for a recent study. 

Geoffrey Riley/JPR News

You don't have to sell people in the state of Jefferson on the region's charms.  And tourism certainly helps pay the bills around here. 

But are we getting a rep as a place that's on fire or smoky or both?  It's been a rough fire season, with a number of events canceled by smoke concerns. 

Travel Oregon and Discover Siskiyou are in the business of convincing people they want to come here.  We check in with them to see if that job has become more difficult. 

Oregon smoke blog

There's no escaping the smoke of late.  As August rolled into September, smoke from wildfires hung heavy in the valleys of the region, driving air quality numbers into the unhealthy range. 

The problem with smoke is that such small particles--2.5 microns and smaller--is that the lungs don't easily expel them. 

Dr. Berta Baldovino from Providence Health knows the lungs and their irritants. 

The Effect Of Wildfire Smoke On The Body

Aug 4, 2015
Geoffrey Riley/JPR

A lot of us saw smoke plumes rise in the air from nearby wildfires. 

And then we didn't see much at all, as the smoke settled into the valleys and obscured the view.  Worse, it created potential health challenges through worsening air quality

Parts of the Rogue Valley spent the weekend with air listed in the "hazardous" range. 

Retired environmental toxicologist Bruce Hope once worked for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and still volunteers on its Air Toxics Advisory Committee.

Suing The Feds Over Wood Smoke Regulation

Oct 15, 2013
Katie Campbell/EarthFix

Too much wood smoke is bad for you. 

That's well established by research, and so the federal Environmental Protection Agency regulates the particulate matter that makes up wood smoke. 

Fire/Smoke Relief For Small Businesses

Sep 13, 2013
PNW #2 IMTeam

The summer fires in Josephine and Douglas counties damaged few structures.

But they put a huge dent in the tourism business, especially during the time the Rogue River was closed to rafting.