Wildfire haze hurts Gorge air quality

A SHEEN OF SMOKE hovers above the Columbia River, seen from downtown Hood River. Smoke from wildfires — close and distant — has made the air quality fluctuate across the region.

A shroud of smoke caused by fires around the Pacific Northwest has hemmed in the Columbia Gorge.

David Bishop, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Portland, explained this week a handful of major fires — such as the Whitewater Fire near Mount Jefferson, and other blazes as far as British Columbia — contributed smoke.

“The wind right now is coming from the north-northwest,” Bishop said, which brought smoke to the Gorge.

Closer at hand, the Indian Creek Fire west of Cascade Locks continues to burn (see related A3 story).

The assigned fire team stated in a report the fire added to the smoky horizons in Portland and the Gorge, but distant fires are also justly blamed.

“Much of this smoke is coming from fires around the region and British Columbia and is not solely the result of the Indian Creek Fire,” the team noted.

Forecasters expected a Thursday night wind shift would alleviate conditions somewhat; however, smoke was still obscuring the downtown Hood River vista at press time Friday morning.

Along with the semi-opaque sky comes health risks for certain populations as air quality deteriorates.

Mike Matthews, Hood River County environmental health supervisor, said air quality will likely fluctuate through the next week, as forecasts predict the weather pattern will remain similar.

“There will likely be improved air quality in the afternoons when the wind picks up and poorer conditions in the mornings and evenings when winds are calmer,” Matthews said Thursday.

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s nearest station, in The Dalles, termed the health risk “unhealthy for certain groups” on its web map Friday.

The Hood River Valley’s situation looks about the same.

“I would expect our air quality to be similar to what they are seeing in The Dalles when winds are calm,” Matthews said. “The air quality seems to be consistent, at this time, between the upper and lower valley but this is likely to fluctuate over time as well.”

People most vulnerable to the fine particles in wildfire smoke are those with chronic lung or heart conditions, the elderly and children.

The county health staff recommends that people at risk stay indoors when possible and limit their exposure to the smoke. Likewise, patients who suffer from asthma or other respiratory conditions should follow their breathing management plans, keep medications on hand and contact health care providers if need be.

DEQ also urges residents to take the following steps:

Be aware of smoke concentrations in your area and avoid the places with highest concentrations.

Check air quality conditions on DEQ's website at www.deq.state.or.us/aqi or call 503-229-6397.

Avoid outdoor activities when air quality is unhealthy and hazardous.

To avoid smoke, either leave the area or protect yourself by staying indoors, closing as many windows and doors as possible without letting your home overheat, and using a filter in your heating or cooling system that removes very fine particulate matter.

Avoid strenuous outdoor activity in smoky conditions.

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