Frequently Asked Questions and Conversations

What does SWCAA regulate?

SWCAA regulates facilities such as industrial or other stationary sources of air pollution, outdoor burning, wood stoves, fireplaces, and the removal of asbestos. Learn more here.

Can SWCAA perform air quality testing in my home?

SWCAA is a regulatory agency and does not test air quality directly. Contact an environmental testing agency or consult your local HVAC company.

Why is outdoor burning banned now? I've been doing it this way for years.

Even though humans have been burning wood since the beginning of time, scientists now know how hazardous woodsmoke is to our health. Laws have changed over the years to better protect our health and ambient air quality. In areas with a higher population density, the outdoor burning of yard debris has been banned completely. Burn barrels were banned over 20 years ago and in 1967 burning garbage was declared illegal. Moisture meters can confirm firewood is seasoned properly and under 20% moisture content. Air quality monitors help determine our air pollution impact to keep us on track. Learn more about the background of permanent no burn areas.

It is just wood smoke why the concern?

Woodsmoke is toxic and contains many of the same cancer-causing substances as cigarettes. Short-term exposure can cause long-term health effects. Smoldering wet material, like grass and leaves, creates heavy smoke that often settles at ground level. A little smoke goes a long way and can travel for miles depending on the day. As you may have experienced during wildfire smoke episodes, you cannot just close the windows. The smoke will find its way into homes. Learn more about protecting your indoor air quality.

How am I supposed to control the smoke?

Dry material is key, whether burning yard debris, burning in a wood stove, fireplace or recreationally. The goal is a hot fire for complete combustion creating the least amount of smoke possible. Choose another solution, instead of creating unnecessary air pollution.

The fire was out and only smoking.

Where there's smoke there's fire. A smoldering fire creates ground level air pollution since there is little heat to help it rise. Sometimes when the breeze is just right the fire can relight. Burn right and put the fire out completely before leaving at night.

The fire department said I'm good to go.

The fire department will typically say a fire is okay, if it's well controlled and at no risk of escape. The fire departments primary concern is fire safety, not air quality. They should only be called in case of emergency. Smoke complaints can be filed with the SW Clean Air Agency.

A safe fire is not necessarily a legal fire.

Which burn permit do I need?

Let's start with where you live. Can you burn yard debris on your property? If the answer is yes, then it depends on what type of vegetative debris you need to dispose of. Even with a permit burn bans still apply.

Residential small debris fires related to property maintenance should only include DRY tree branches, and woody yard debris. The self-issued permit is for one fire under 10'x10'x6'. This is a single-day event that needs to be completely out before nightfall, with a free permit from the local county agency or the fire marshal. Instead of creating air pollution, choose to chip, compost, or recycle.

Did you clear trees from the property? Or have more than one pile of debris? Slash piles larger than 10ft x 10ft x 6ft, multi-day burning, or land clearing, require a site-specific permit from the county, SWCAA, or Department of Natural Resources (DNR), depending on location and any forest practices designation.

Why can't I burn pallets and other wood products?

Processed lumber may be coated with clear antifungal or pesticide agents which are toxic when burned. Demolition materials may contain contaminates including asbestos. Particle board and plywood contain formaldehyde, glues, and other resins. Burning anything other than natural vegetation is illegal. Processed wood (urban wood) can be recycled locally. Most of the material is used as hog fuel for the creation of energy.

Chemistry by combustion poisons our air, water, and soil.
Click the image to see more examples of what not to burn

Can I burn manufactured fire logs?

Many manufactured fire starters and logs sold in stores are made with ingredients such as wax and cardboard. SWCAA recommends sticking with seasoned firewood to avoid smoke and odor complaints in the neighborhood.

What's the difference between yard debris and seasoned firewood?

Time, preparation and moisture content. Properly seasoned firewood will contain under 20% moisture content when tested with a moisture meter.
Tip: Bark is naturally fire retardant and can have bite. Leave it out of the fire to ensure the cleanest burn possible. When the wood is split and seasoned properly, the bark should fall off naturally.

What are the setbacks for outdoor wood burning fires?

Overlapping fire safety and air quality setback regulations apply. Most fire safety regulations require a 25-foot setback from all combustibles for a recreational, wood burning fire, under 3'x3'. State air quality laws require 50-foot setbacks from structures, decks, and fences for all outdoor fires, regardless of type or size. Avoid unnecessary air pollution and smoke complaints by converting recreational wood burning firepits to use natural gas or propane.

Click the image to review the recreational fire rules

Why are burn barrels banned?

By state law burn barrels were banned over 20 years ago. When a fire's oxygen flow is restricted the incomplete combustion results in heavy smoke that can settle at ground level. Typically, barrels were used to burn garbage which is also illegal.

Large Burn Barrel
Click the image to view additional illegal burn barrels.

What fuel can I use to start the burn pile?

The key is dry debris and oxygen. Propane burners, fans, and leaf blowers help add oxygen into the fire creating better combustion and less pollution. If the yard debris is wet or green, cover it from rainfall until the branches are free of leaves and dry enough to break clean.

How can I find my neighbors address?

Locating an address may be easy when you live across the street. But when the target location is blocks away or behind your property, use your County GIS webpage, or other online maps to determine the address.
County GIS Maps| Clark | Cowlitz | Lewis | Skamania | Wahkiakum

What are contrails?

The contrails or vapor trails observed in the sky are line-shaped clouds that will dissipate over time. They are produced by hot aircraft engine exhaust in low-temperature, high altitudes or changes in air pressure. How long the lines stay in the sky depends on the weather. Visit the EPA for additional details on contrails.

My neighbor uses scented dryer sheets can SWCAA contact them to stop?

Odors are bound to travel between properties in close proximity. Individual choices in cleaning products, fragrances, cooking ingredients, smoking or other odorous activities are considered civil matters between neighbors. If a conversation without a confrontation is not an option, consider mediation.

Who do I contact regarding paper mill complaints?

The Department of Ecology Industrial Section oversees refineries, smelters, paper mills, and chemical manufacturing plants.

Why do I need asbestos testing to take demolition materials to the dump?

Moving and separating materials at the transfer station can potentially expose the employees and public to asbestos. Learn more about demolition and renovation requirements.

What is the best air quality monitor?

There are many types, styles, and unit measurements to choose from. A great place to start is the EPA Air Sensor Toolbox.