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.

Check the Environmental Protection Agency AirNow website for a reliable report of the current and forecasted air quality in your area.

  • AirNow provides the hourly AQI and a rating of how clean or polluted the outdoor air is, along with any potential health effects and recommended steps to reduce exposure. 
  • Also check the Fire and Smoke Map to get the AQI closest to your location.

The University Office of Emergency Management will issue campus-wide alerts during periods of observed or forecasted hazardous outdoor quality at or above 150 AQI. Sign up for UW Alerts.

Check the EH&S website homepage, which will be updated when the AQI is at or above 72 (and again when the AQI is at or above 101) when worker protection requirements go into effect.

Read more information on the health effects of wildfire smoke and tips for protecting yourself on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Wildfire Smoke webpage and in the frequently asked questions section below.

Working indoors during wildfire smoke events

The best way to protect yourself against the potentially harmful effects of wildfire smoke is to reduce wildfire smoke exposure, for example, by seeking clean air shelters and cleaner air spaces. We recommend keeping windows and doors closed as much as possible to avoid worsening the indoor air quality.

University buildings that use heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to filter indoor air typically remove up to 90% of particles in wildfire smoke. Indoor portable air cleaners can help supplement mechanical ventilation indoors and can be utilized in buildings without HVAC systems.

UW Facilities has a limited inventory of portable air cleaners that are prioritized for buildings on the Seattle campus without mechanical ventilation during wildfire smoke events. Units should reach out to the UW Facilities Care Team to determine availability.

  • It should be noted that smoke odors would still be noticeable, even with additional filtration.
  • If building occupants continue to experience symptoms from smoke indoors, an N95 respirator worn voluntarily can add another layer of protection.

In naturally ventilated buildings (buildings without mechanical HVAC systems), the indoor temperatures may rise due to windows being closed. If the room becomes unbearably hot, portable electric fans and air-conditioning units can be used to cool the space. Check with your unit leadership and the building coordinator or facility manager to ensure the facility electrical system can meet the energy demand.

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