Wildfire Smoke

smoky skies

Updated May 13, 2024

Wildfire smoke contains a mixture of chemicals and particles. Fine particles in wildfire smoke can result in health symptoms and be harmful to health because they can reach lower areas of the lungs. Some individuals are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution such as those with certain health conditions. Wildfire smoke may reach UW locations from various areas both inside and outside of Washington state due to the wildfire smoke patterns.

Indoor air quality

Guidance for working indoors during periods of elevated wildfire smoke is found in the General Precautions section below.

Visit the Indoor Air Quality page for more information and instructions for requesting an indoor air quality evaluation.

Outdoor worker protections

The policy and guidance provided by Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) is based on the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 296-62-085 and 296-820, effective January 15, 2024. The rule provides protection for personnel working outdoors who may be reasonably expected to be exposed to wildfire smoke. The rule identifies five action levels to protect personnel when air quality worsens.

Units with outdoor workers are required to develop a Wildfire Smoke Response Plan before the Air Quality Index (AQI) reaches 72 (or the PM2.5 hourly average reaches 20.5 micrograms per cubic meter). 

Refer to the Responsibilities section of this page for more information.

Refer to the Air Quality Monitoring section below to check the AQI.

Action levels


University personnel who work outdoors and may reasonably be expected to be exposed to wildfire smoke are required to complete training that includes information about wildfire smoke hazards before beginning work that exposes the individual to AQI of 72 or higher, and at least annually thereafter.

Wildfire Smoke safety training course is available on the Training webpage.


The Wildfire Smoke rule applies to UW work areas where it is reasonably anticipated that personnel may be exposed to wildfire smoke with some exceptions.

The Wildfire Smoke rule does not apply when University personnel are:

  • Inside enclosed buildings or structures in which windows, doors, bays, and other exterior openings are kept closed, except when necessary to open doors to enter and exit; or
  • Inside enclosed vehicles in which the air is filtered by a properly maintained cabin air filter and that windows, doors, and other openings are kept closed except when it is necessary to open doors to enter or exit (buses, light rail, and other enclosed vehicles used for transit systems where doors are frequently opened to board and deboard passengers are not included under the exemption); or
  • Engaged in firefighting; or
  • Performing prescribed burns.


Air quality monitoring

The University monitors air quality for our campus locations through the following resources:

  1. Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow Fire and Smoke Map.
    • Locate the sensor on the map closest to your location for the most accurate AQI.
    • The Map includes hourly data from thousands of air quality sensors that measure the concentration of fine particle pollution.
  2. State of Washington Department of Ecology’s Air Monitoring Network website.
  3. U.S. Forest Service Airfire website.

University units are generally not allowed to install individual air quality monitors. Some exceptions may apply such as for remote locations that do not have representative monitoring stations. Units are required to consult with EH&S for review and guidance if they anticipate a need for individual air quality monitors.

General precautions

When the AQI is greater than 101, it is recommended that everyone stay indoors and keep windows closed, especially sensitive groups, such as older adults and young children, pregnant women, and those with a respiratory or heart condition.

Services available

EH&S is available for consultation and may perform a site visit and collect measurements depending on the situation.

Visit the Indoor Air Quality page on the EH&S website for more information and instructions for requesting an indoor air quality evaluation.

To request assistance from EH&S please contact us at ehsdept@uw.edu or (206) 543-7388.

Frequently asked questions