Widespread smoke from wildfires and biomass burning contributes to air pollution and the deterioration of air quality and human health. A common and major emission of biomass burning, often found in collected smoke particles, is spherical wood tar particles, also known as "tar balls". However, the toxicity of wood tar particles and the mechanisms that govern their health impacts and the impact of their complicated chemical matrix are not fully elucidated. To address these questions, we generated wood tar material from wood pyrolysis and isolated two main subfractions: water-soluble and organic-soluble fractions. The chemical characteristics as well as the cytotoxicity, oxidative damage, and DNA damage mechanisms were investigated after exposure of A549 and BEAS-2B lung epithelial cells to wood tar. Our results suggest that both wood tar subfractions reduce cell viability in exposed lung cells; however, these fractions have different modes of action that are related to their physicochemical properties. Exposure to the water-soluble wood tar fraction increased total reactive oxygen species production in the cells, decreased mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP), and induced oxidative damage and cell death, probably through apoptosis. Exposure to the organic-soluble fraction increased superoxide anion production, with a sharp decrease in MMP. DNA damage is a significant process that may explain the course of toxicity of the organic-soluble fraction. For both subfractions, exposure caused cell cycle alterations in the G2/M phase that were induced by upregulation of p21 and p16. Collectively, both subfractions of wood tar are toxic. The water-soluble fraction contains chemicals (such as phenolic compounds) that induce a strong oxidative stress response and penetrate living cells more easily. The organic-soluble fraction contained more polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and oxygenated PAHs and induced genotoxic processes, such as DNA damage.