BEND, OR -- Local leaders have been working to improve how the area deals with smoke from prescribed burns and wildfires. Deschutes County Commissioners support an updated Statewide Smoke Management plan, which County Forester Ed Keith says allows for greater flexibility and more prescribed burns near populated areas prone to wildfire.
Keith tells KBND News the High Desert is key to making the policy work, because of the number of residents and controlled burns, "In Central Oregon, we don't really have a 'no fire' option. Fire's just part of the reality of living in Central Oregon. We have the chance to be proactive in the spring and in the fall trying to identify areas that can act as a buffer to wildfire." But, he says creating those "buffers" around populated through prescribed burns was tough under old state rules, "The previous version of the Smoke Management Plan basically had a zero tolerance policy for smoke, and that was really challenging to pull off some of these prescribed fires that were right next to town. But now there's a small amount of tolerance for limited exposure to smoke." The new guidelines specify particulate levels considered unhealthy for especially vulnerable populations, like kids, the elderly and those with chronic conditions.
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The revisions also call on communities to develop response plans to protect those sensitive population groups. Keith says Deschutes County is working on a plan to communicate with residents about the dangers of smoke and what to expect during prescribed burn season, "The Central Oregon Fire website is the place to go, both for information on upcoming burns, but also it explains why we do burn. There's also a page on prescribed fire and your health in relation to smoke." He meets with County Commissioners Wednesday to discuss the State Smoke Management Plan and Deschutes County's role in making it successful.