Smoke, ash from the Eagle Creek fire, and high heat make for unhealthy air in the Willamette Valley through at least Wednesday evening

September 5, 2017

The National Weather Service Tuesday issued a statewide air quality alert through noon Friday as Wildfires across the state and the Columbia River Gorge cause smoky conditions that can pose a health risk to certain people. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has also extended an ozone advisory through Thursday for the Portland metro area.

Eagle Creek Fire, Sept. 3, 2017. Credit: the National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Air quality may get better by Wednesday evening as winds start to push smoke from the Eagle Creek blaze east up the gorge. Changes in wind direction and expected rainstorms in the middle of the week may not completely clear out air in the Portland metro area.

Multnomah County Health Department is working closely with the Oregon Health Authority and Department of Environmental Quality to urge residents to take precautions as heat and smoky conditions create poor air quality.

Visible pieces of ash are big enough to be kept out of the lungs by the body’s natural defenses in the nose and throat. Small particles from wildfire smoke can get deep into the lungs along with ozone that forms near the ground from the combination of car exhaust and very hot air. All of these small particles can irritate the eyes and throat.

Those at higher risk of health problems from poor air quality include:

  • People with chronic lung or heart conditions
  • The elderly
  • Children

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. The best way to avoid breathing problems or other symptoms when the air quality is poor is to stay inside. If you must be outdoors, avoid intense activity. 

Paper "comfort" or "dust" masks commonly found at hardware stores are meant to trap large particles like sawdust but will not protect the lungs from the small particles in smoke. There are also specially designed air filters worn on the face called respirators or “N95” or “N100” masks. For full protection against wildfire smoke, these masks must fit tightly against the face and be checked with special equipment. If it does not fit properly, the respirator may provide almost no protection and can be very uncomfortable. These tight-fitting respirators can make it harder to breathe and can make the user very hot. Decisions on whether to use respirators or masks as personal protection for people who must work outside should be made with the employer.

Multnomah County residents can do their part for air quality. Here’s how:

  • Avoid any outside burning (Portland Fire and Rescue also has a burn ban in effect)
  • Minimize driving and avoid engine idling
  • Do not use gas-powered mowers or yard equipment
  • Get gas during cooler evening hours when gas vapors are less likely to turn into smog

Resources

If you plan on travel, check the Oregon Department of Transportation and Washington Department of Transportation websites and trip cams prior to leaving. Road closures and poor visibility may cause detours or longer travel times.

Check the DEQ’s current air quality conditions or call 503-229-6397. Follow Oregon DEQ on Facebook or Twitter

Read the Oregon Smoke Blog for the latest on fires across the state.

Read the latest on the Eagle Creek Fire.

To find a cooling center, check out: