Smoke fills Portland metro area, reducing air quality to 'unhealthy' levels

Downtown Portland is hardly visible through the smoky air on Aug. 14, 2018. KATU photo

PORTLAND, Ore. – A breath of fresh air will be hard to come by in the Portland area Tuesday. Wildfires burning around the region are making the air quality unhealthy – and it’s expected to stay that way for the next couple days.

Satellite imagery shows smoke from the wildfires blowing into the Willamette Valley.

According to the National Weather Service, lower-level smoke is beginning to filter in to Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington. It’s coming from wildfires in Canada, North-central Oregon, Southern Oregon and California.

Much of the Portland area, upper Willamette Valley, Columbia Gorge, and Southwest Oregon region are experiencing unhealthy air. Several other places around the region have air quality that is unhealthy for sensitive groups.

KATU Meteorologist Dave Salesky said that lower-level winds (4,000-foot level) are drawing smoke south from Washington and Canada, while higher-elevation systems (in the 8,000-foot range) are pulling smoke from California to the north.

Salesky said the next chance for relief would be a strong onshore flow which could push some of the smoke out of the Portland area Wednesday afternoon into Thursday. That system change could bring with it the threat of thunderstorms in the Cascade Range, as Oregon enters the peak of wildfire season.

Health officials suggest limiting your activity outdoors when the air quality is this bad. You should especially avoid strenuous activities outside. Breathing in smoke particles is dangerous.

People with lung and heart disease and the elderly and children are most at risk.

The air quality was so bad Tuesday that some school districts like Salem-Keizer and Portland Public Schools canceled outdoor activities until further notice.

Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) says all outdoor and indoor pools are staying open, and recreation activities are being held as planned. However, some outdoor activities are being moved indoors where it's feasible to do so.

If air quality moves into the 'Very Unhealthy' range, PP&R may cancel or postpone some activities.

Local veterinarians are reminding pet owners that the smoke can cause respiratory stress in dogs and cats.

Representatives with the National Weather Service in Medford say the smoke vent is delivering the longest period of unhealthy air quality since the Environmental Protection Agency began keeping records in 2000.

Check the Oregon DEQ website or AirNow.gov for updates on the air quality conditions.


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