Hazy days in the Gorge are a bit of a surprise when normally sky-clearing winds have been blowing. But, as many river users have noticed, haze has been on the daily menu over the last week.
According to the National Weather Service, persistent haze in the Gorge and across the Northwest can be tied to a large rash of fires burning on Russia’s eastern coast.
Those renowned Gorge winds are working in coordination with a larger system of winds that are carrying the Russian wildfire smoke across the Pacific Ocean.
“Many things cause haze in the Gorge,” said Brian Mannion, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality spokesperson. “Of course, it is also a dusty, dry time of year and we have our own wildfires burning in Oregon.”
Although Mannion said it is hard to pinpoint exact causes, the additional fires in Russia are part of the contributing factors here at home.
According to the NWS, the thickening smoke layer above the ocean is joining with the natural cloud layer, creating a significant accumulation of haze.
Although air quality readings from the Oregon DEQ are still listing the Gorge in the “good” zone, the visual aspect is perhaps more distressing.
At last count, 67 forest fires have been burning on Russia’s eastern coastlines since mid-July, including fires near Lake Baikal and the Kamchatka Peninsula. Over 37,000 acres have already been consumed by the forest fires.
There are currently three active wild fires burning in Oregon. An interactive map is available online to view Oregon wildfire information on the website for the Northwest Agency Coordination Center.
“We are gearing up for localized wildfire events,” said Mannion.
According to ODEQ, under certain weather conditions smoke from these fires can drift into communities and quickly cause unhealthy air quality. Should smoke events occur, DEQ and health officials urge local residents to take the following precautions to avoid breathing problems or other symptoms from smoke:
n Be aware of smoke concentrations in your area and avoid the places with highest concentrations.
n Avoid smoke either by leaving the area or protecting yourself by staying indoors, closing all windows and doors and using a filter in your. heating/cooling system that removes very fine particulate matter
n Avoid strenuous outdoor activity in smoky conditions.
n People suffering from asthma or other respiratory problems should follow their breathing management plans or contact their healthcare providers.
Local smoke levels can rise and fall rapidly, depending on weather factors including wind direction. People can conduct a visual assessment of smoke levels to quickly get a sense of air quality levels and take precautions.