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Rain In Forecast Crucial For Eagle Creek Fire's Next Few Days


The sun is barely visible over downtown Portland, Oregon, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, as seen through smoke from wildfires burning in the Columbia River Gorge east of Portland. The growing blaze east of Portland, Oregon, in the scenic Columbia River Gorge, was one of dozens of wildfires burning in western U.S. states that sent smoke into cities from Seattle to Denver.

The sun is barely visible over downtown Portland, Oregon, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, as seen through smoke from wildfires burning in the Columbia River Gorge east of Portland. The growing blaze east of Portland, Oregon, in the scenic Columbia River Gorge, was one of dozens of wildfires burning in western U.S. states that sent smoke into cities from Seattle to Denver.

Don Ryan/AP

The National Weather Service in Portland says rain in the forecast for the next couple of days will be crucial for firefighting efforts in the Columbia River Gorge as hot and dry conditions are forecast to return at the end of the week.

A chance of rain between now and Friday is over 50 percent in most locations in northwest Oregon.

Only light showers are expected, but NWS Meteorologist Colby Newman said Wednesday that anything is better than the dry weather conditions that have exacerbated the difficulties of fighting the Eagle Creek Fire — which is now burning about 32,000 acres.

“It won’t be enough rain to put out the fires, but it will certainly help firefighting efforts,” Newman said.

The rain will also bring thunderstorms and a potential for new fire starts. While the fire area will be wetter in general, lightning strikes are still a concern. 

Newman said small fires — like when lightning strikes a tree and burns during the cool weather pattern — can easily remain relatively small and go undetected.

He said those small fires can expand once the weather takes a turn back to hotter and drier conditions Sunday.

“In a few days, we can see holdovers where lightning strikes from [Wednesday night] can end up blossoming,” said Newman. 

There is some relief in sight for outside the direct areas of wildfires. Rain should ease the smoke that is covering much of Oregon, though that relief may only be minor. A light shift to westerly winds could carry smoke to Eastern Oregon. 

“That could improve air quality in the Willamette Valley, but we’re not getting rid of the smoke entirely in the next 24 hours,” Newman. “The smoke will linger even until tomorrow  – there’s still smoke coming in from fires from Southern Oregon, riding up.”

At a press conference Wednesday morning, Dr. Jennifer Vines with the Multnomah County Health Department said the best thing for people to do is to stay inside. Air quality remains unhealthy, mostly for sensitive groups. 

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