The smoke that blew into Bend on Wednesday evening will probably stick around for a while, as two wildfires southwest of La Pine continue to burn and winds continue to push the hazy air toward Central Oregon.
And air quality officials are warning people who are sensitive to the tiny particles to stay inside and avoid strenuous outdoor activity.
“Smoke levels are getting up in the range we consider to be unhealthy for certain groups,” said Mark Fisher, acting air quality eastern region manager with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, listing groups like the elderly, children and people with asthma or heart or lung conditions. “They should stay inside, hopefully in places where there's a good ventilation system or air-conditioning system that has a filter on it.”
DEQ has air quality monitoring stations that measure the numbers of particulates in the air, and Thursday afternoon the number was within the range that is considered unhealthy for people who might be more sensitive to contaminants in the air.
“It's still in the range (of unhealthy) for sensitive groups,” Fisher said. “But it's climbing, and we don't know how high it's going to go.”
The smoke particles are irritants and can cause breathing problems, Fisher said.
When wildfires break out, allergists and asthma specialists almost always expect a rush of patients, said Ripdeep Mangat, a Bend allergist.
He had one patient Thursday whose eyes were irritated by the smoke, he said, and the smoke can worsen allergy symptoms, trigger asthma or irritate the eyes, nose or throat.
“Avoidance is your best measure, not go out if you can help it,” he said.
The smoke could be an issue for several days, said Virginia Gibbons, spokeswoman with the U.S. Forest Service.
“People should expect this to be affecting them through the weekend, at a minimum,” she said.
The smoke is from the Tumblebug Complex Fire, about five miles southwest of Crescent Lake, and the Boze and Rainbow Creek Fire west of Diamond Lake.
With hot, dry weather and an unstable atmosphere keeping the fires burning, they could keep sending up smoke for at least several weeks.
“They're both in the early stages of being suppressed,” Gibbons said. “With increased winds predicted, it looks like they're going to be active for the near future.”
The winds are still predicted to be pushing smoke toward Bend today and Saturday, said Joe Solomon, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pendleton.
And while the wind pattern might shift on Sunday to push the smoke toward the Oregon Coast, on Monday it's predicted to shift again, possibly sending the smoke back to Central Oregon.
Next week could also bring some cooler and wetter weather to the fire areas, he said.
“If they can get some rain over there, that could help limit the smoke as well,” Solomon said.
It's not unusual for smoke from wildfires outside of the region to blow in, Gibbons said — last year, smoke from California created hazy skies in Central Oregon. And the region's smoke can travel as well.
“Sometimes even with the Central Oregon fires, we'll get calls from other places saying ‘We have your smoke,'” she said.