Smoke lowers air quality in Bend

By Dylan J. Darling The Bulletin

Wildfire smoke in Bend has caused air quality to drop today to levels potentially dangerous for people with heart and breathing conditions.

“We hope that people are protecting themselves,” said Mark Bailey, eastern region air quality manager for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. The smoke may cause itchy eyes, scratchy throats and headaches.

Starting late Wednesday, winds carried smoke into Central Oregon from a series of wildfires near Oakridge, along state Highway 58. The Deception Complex, sparked by lightning on Aug. 12, blew up Wednesday and briefly prompted evacuations for 85 homes close to Westfir.

The fires grew from a total of 851 acres to 1,454 acres Wednesday, said Judith McHugh, spokeswoman for the Willamette National Forest. Officials say the fires, which are burning in old-growth timber, are about 50 percent contained.

Firefighters expect flare ups today and spot fires, or new, small fires outside of containment lines. They also expect more smoke.

“It may look a lot like yesterday,” McHugh said this morning.

There’s a chance winds could shift today, giving Central Oregon a reprieve from the smoke, said Ann Adams, assistant forecaster with the National Weather Service in Pendleton.

“As long as the winds come out of the west, then you might be seeing that smoke in your area,” she said.

Large fires are also burning in Northern California and near Klamath Falls, so winds from the southwest or south could also bring smoke to Central Oregon.

As long as its smoky, Bailey, the state air quality expert, said people can use visibility to gauge the air quality.

If visibility is more than 15 miles, air quality is good, between 5 to 15 miles moderate, under 5 miles unhealthy for sensitive groups, under 3 miles unhealthy for everyone, and under 1 mile very unhealthy.

Today in Bend, Bailey said, he observed visibility of 3 to 5 miles.

“We could probably expect to see smoke here most of the day,” Bailey said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com

National Weather Service / Courtesy photo Smoke from the Deception Complex, a series of wilfires, is seen building near Oakridge on Highway 58 in this satellite image from the National Weather Service. Winds started carrying smoke from the fires to Central Oregon Wednesday night, causing poor air quality today.