Evacuation zone shrinks as air quality improves downwind of five-alert scrap yard blaze

March 13, 2018

Many residents evacuated Monday night from neighborhoods downwind of a salvage yard fire can return home, health officials said Tuesday morning, as air quality monitors record improving conditions.

evacuation zone, March 13, near scrap yard fire

“Last night about 9 p.m. we expanded the evacuation zone because of worsening air conditions,” Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Paul Lewis said at a press conference. “Fortunately the readings since midnight have gotten progressively better.”

About 500 residents closest to the five-alarm fire — those living between 72nd and 76th Ave, from Killingsworth to Alberta streets — are still under an evacuation order, as the Environmental Protection Agency continues to document high levels of particulate matter in the air.

A temporary shelter, opened Monday night by Multnomah County and the Red Cross at 1415 SE 122nd Ave, welcomed 135 people and 15 pets. That shelter will remain open for residents who are unable to return home.

An initial assessment of local emergency department visits did not identify an increase in complaints related to difficulty breathing, a concern when such a sudden and intense fire occurs.

Lewis advised anyone who feels unwell to contact their healthcare providers, especially those most vulnerable to the effects of smoke, including the very young, the elderly and people with underlying heart and lung conditions. Rains and shift in wind patterns are expected Tuesday morning, according to the National Weather Service, freeing smoke that has hugged the ground overnight.

Kim Kosmas, a spokesperson for Portland Fire and Rescue, said the shift in weather will help improve the air quality and help fire crews extinguish the blaze. Investigators will begin their investigation Tuesday morning into how the fire started. 

Daylight will also allow for assessment of contamination from soot in the areas downwind of the fire. Residents and business owners should plan to clean surfaces with soap or detergent and plenty of water. Once the fire is out and the site is safe and secure, the state's Department of Environmental Quality will conduct a site assessment to determine what additional environmental cleanup might be necessary. This will include profiling waste for disposal, soil sampling and assessing water quality impacts that need to be addressed.

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