By Kailey Fisicaro
Even when Cecilia Secor’s roof on her home in Bend’s Sundance subdivision had been singed by flames in the 1996 Skeleton Fire, she didn’t experience smoke like she saw Wednesday in Bend.
“I’ve been here for 35 years and this is the first time I’ve seen smoke like this,” Secor said.
This week’s concentration of smoke is “much worse” than anything she’s seen in decades, and many longtime Bendites agree. At Home Heating & Cooling Inc., the Bend business Secor co-owns with her husband, Ric Secor, they’re seeing an uptick in the number of customers coming in to replace filters for their home heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.
Measuring the particulate matter in the air on Wednesday, Ric Secor found it at a level 200 times higher than an average day in Bend.
In addition to customers coming into replace filters, some people visited the local business to buy room cleaners — special filters that suck in particulate matter to improve air quality indoors. One model Ric Secor sells is the same room cleaner the U.S. Olympic Committee gave its athletes to use in Beijing in 2008.
Ric Secor said he thinks a lot of Bendites are hunkering down at home to stay out of the smoke. He recommends keeping the house closed and circulating the air so the filter — even if it’s not new — can help clean the air.
Melissa Shandy didn’t need officials’ word on how bad the air quality in Bend had gotten on Wednesday. From her position inside Worthy Brewing Co., where she’s a manager, she couldn’t see Pilot Butte, about a mile away.
“Usually we can see the mountain range and Pilot Butte,” Shandy said. “Right now we can’t even see the butte.”
The brewery canceled its outdoor music concerts on Tuesday and Wednesday and closed seating to the patio to keep people indoors and out of the wildfire smoke-filled air, deemed unhealthy by state and local officials. While the restaurant still had plenty of customers, Worthy saw a drop-off in recent days as smoke conditions worsened in Bend, Shandy said.
“Business has definitely slowed down the past few days, because people here know for their own safety to follow precautions and stay inside,” Shandy said.
The drop-off could also be a result of summer coming to an end soon, too, she said. A few local school districts, including Bend-La Pine, start next week.
Local school officials have been keeping an eye on smoke to determine whether its safe for student athletes to practice outside. A few games were canceled Tuesday to keep kids from competing in the poor air quality.
Around Central Oregon, a number of events and programs were canceled due to the smoke.
Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe postponed its Pickin’ and Paddlin’ event at the Old Mill District, an outdoor concert and boat demonstration fundraiser for the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance. The kayak and canoe shop plans to reschedule the event.
Bend Park & Recreation District canceled several programs, including youth sports, adult pickleball, tennis and softball. The park district also closed the outdoor pool at Juniper Swim & Fitness Center and rental stands at Riverbend Park were closed, according to the park district.
In Sunriver, the Sunriver Resort Half Marathon for a Cause events scheduled for Saturday and Sunday have been postponed. The Sunriver Homeowners Aquatic & Recreation Center closed its outdoor water features, including the pool, lazy river and water slide, on Wednesday. The outdoor features will also be closed Thursday. The indoor facilities will be open.
But in Sisters, where conditions can vary drastically depending on the time of day, business owner and Sisters City Councilor Richard Esterman said his event, the Sisters Fall Street Festival, is still on for Saturday and Sunday. Esterman, who owns Central Oregon Shows, said even with smoky conditions, businesses are remaining open. He and others don’t want to see visitors avoid Sisters entirely because of the air quality.
Shawn Jacobs, a National Weather Service incident meteorologist assigned to the Milli Fire, had predicted winds Wednesday and Thursday might help clear some smoke before a high pressure system moving in over the weekend worsened conditions again. But what’s hard to quantify is how much smoke is produced from fires other than the Milli Fire, Jacobs said.
The smoke in Central Oregon is not coming only from the Milli Fire near Sisters, the Deschutes National Forest said in a news release Wednesday. Sixteen large fires or fire complexes are burning across Oregon, and fire experts expect to see continued growth on many of these thanks to current and expected weather conditions, according to the Forest Service.
Poor air quality in Bend is expected to continue into next week, according to the National Weather Service Pendleton office.
John Peck, a meteorologist there, said he doesn’t expected conditions next week will be quite as bad as they were in Bend on Wednesday, but a high pressure system coming this weekend will cause light winds and the air to stagnate. That stagnant air will likely mean air quality will stay “less than optimal” at least into early next week.
In addition to the pressure system, air quality conditions depend on fire behavior in the coming days, Peck said.
Bend and Sisters aren’t the only Central Oregon cities being hit with smoke.
In Redmond, visibility Wednesday was clearly diminished due to the smoke, but Redmond Airport Director Zachary Bass said it hadn’t led to any groundings or delays at the airport.
“We are at about a three-fourths-mile visibility,” he said. “We don’t see effects until a half-mile.”
Bass said word from the air control tower was that visibility was expected to improve, so he didn’t anticipate delays in the near future.
ShanRae Hawkins, Central Oregon Irrigation District spokeswoman, left Bend on Monday and couldn’t believe how dramatically the air quality had changed after returning Tuesday evening from Hermiston, she said.
“It was so thick just driving down Highway 97, it was unbelievable,” she said.
Working in Tumalo and Redmond on Wednesday, Hawkins said the smoke was “super heavy” in both locations.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, email@example.com