Oregon is ablaze right now. With at least 25 active wildfires burning more than 282,000 acres, smoke inhalation is a major health concern for the Beaver State.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency have issued an air quality alert for Northeast Oregon until 6 p.m. Tuesday. Wildfires burning around the region are to blame, with smoke and ash creating unhealthy conditions in Portland, the north coast, the Columbia River Gorge, the Willamette Valley and beyond.
In southwest Washington, a similar alert is in effect until 6 p.m. Tuesday for cities including Vancouver, Kelso, Longview, Battle Ground, Stevenson, Skamania and more.
That's prompted public health officials to urge residents to take precautions when heading outdoors in the coming days.
Officials say when air quality is bad, people should avoid prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion. They also warn that those with lung and heart disease should remain indoors as much as possible when air quality is hazardous.
The DEQ said air conditions can change rapidly due to changing weather patterns, wind and wildfire growth, and urged residents to check the air quality before venturing outside, via their online index. Smoke forecasts for areas near large wildfires are available at the Oregon Smoke Blog.
That DEQ index shows air quality is bad across much of the western half of the state as of Tuesday morning. In southern Oregon, wildfire smoke from the Chetco Bar Fire and other wildfires throughout the region has led to an unhealthy air quality rating in Grants Pass, Medford and other nearby communities. In Ashland, the rating is listed as very unhealthy. Things appear to be slightly better in central Oregon, where numerous wildfires have been sending smoke into communities for weeks.
In the Columbia River Gorge, where the Eagle Creek Fire continues to grow and threaten communities on both sides of the river, air quality is listed as unhealthy. In Portland, where smoke from the nearby fires has discolored the sun and ash keeps falling from the sky, the rating is listed as moderate.
Officials also note that Oregon's air quality monitoring network does not capture conditions in all communities, including Hood River, where nearby wildfires stranded 153 hikers on a trail in the Columbia River Gorge overnight Saturday. They advise that residents should gauge air quality conditions and take appropriate actions to protect themselves and family members. One action recommended is to use the 5-3-1 visibility index to determine possible air quality issues.