Air quality alert remains in effect as Eagle Creek Fire continues

September 6, 2017

As the Eagle Creek Fire spread to 32,000 acres through the Columbia River Gorge Wednesday, the National Weather Service warned that smoke will continue to saturate the Willamette Valley, even as rain is predicted for later this week. A statewide air quality warning remains in effect through Friday.

Multnomah County Health Department continues to work closely with the Oregon Health Authority and Department of Environmental Quality to urge residents to stay indoors and avoid heavy activity if they must be outside. These recommendations are most important for:

  • People with chronic lung or heart conditions

  • The elderly

  • Children

Small particles from wildfire smoke can irritate the eyes and throat and get deep into the lungs. Anyone with lung problems such as asthma or emphysema should follow their disease management plans, have medications on hand, and contact healthcare providers if necessary.

Weather update

The National Weather Service predicts winds will start to clear some of the smoke out of the Portland area by Wednesday evening. The Portland metro area should see some improvement in air quality later this week and into the weekend, but skies may still be hazy. By next week, winds might bring smoke from the Eagle Creek Fire back into the metro area. Because the situation is dynamic, the Health Department will continue to monitor conditions and update residents as things change.

Considerations for vulnerable populations

The elderly and people with chronic heart and lung problems

People over age 65 and those with known heart and lung problems like asthma and emphysema are more sensitive to lung irritation from breathing in small particles.  They may have cough, wheezing, trouble breathing, chest tightness, lightheadedness or unusual tiredness.  It is especially important that anyone with these conditions stay inside and have their usual medications on hand.  Anyone with symptoms that are severe or don’t get better should contact their healthcare provider right away.  

Kids

Young children and infants breathe more times per minute than adults and take in more air volume relative to their body size, making them among the sensitive groups when air quality is poor. Parents and caregivers should keep very young children inside, ideally in an air conditioned building until air quality improves.

Decisions about school event cancellations or modifications are up to individual school administrators.  School districts are strongly encouraged to monitor air quality conditions and follow the guidance from Oregon Health Authority about changing or cancelling school activities (https://apps.state.or.us/Forms/Served/le8815h.pdf).

 

Outdoor and agricultural workers

It is an employer’s responsibility to evaluate workplace hazards, including respiratory hazards. Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers free consultation services to employers who may need help with workplace hazards due to the wildfire.

Employees may choose to wear respiratory protection if the employer allows it. But if a respirator is used incorrectly or not kept clean, the respirator itself can become a hazard.

Respirators are not the same as filtering facepieces. Filtering facepieces should be certified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and tested for filtration effectiveness in order for the user to have a reliable level of protection from small particles. Without this careful fitting and use they may not offer much protection.

For more information, see Oregon OSHA’s voluntary respirator use fact sheet or the respiratory protection fact sheet. If employees are worried or believe their concerns have not been addressed, they may file a complaint with Oregon OSHA. Complaints may be filed online or by calling the nearest field office.

 

Homeless

Health experts advise everyone to stay indoors if possible. Anyone experiencing homelessness should try to spend days and nights in local shelters.

"We're asking our neighbors without shelter to work with outreach workers and volunteers or call 2-1-1 and come inside, whether that's a day center, library, cooling center or shelter," said Shannon Singleton, executive director of JOIN. "But we also know space is limited and the need in our community is great. So we're working, along with many others, to collect, distribute or even just share information about appropriate masks to keep folks breathing better."

Multnomah County libraries are another good choice for getting inside.  

“We encourage people to take advantage of the library. We have people who can help them with informational needs and we can help point them in the right direction,” said library spokesman Shawn Cunningham. “It’s free and accessible to everyone.”

 

Undocumented residents

No one needs to show proof of legal immigration status to get help from the American Red Cross. The Red Cross is a private nonprofit and not part of the federal government.

Anyone who has been told to evacuate because of the Eagle Creek fire is welcome at the shelter located at Mt. Hood Community College (3619 NE 17th Drive, in Gresham). There are no questions or records about immigration status from the Red Cross, the organization in charge of the shelter.