Science & Environment

Extreme fire weather conditions west of the Cascades expected through Thursday

By Monica Samayoa (OPB)
Sept. 8, 2020 11:08 p.m. Updated: Sept. 9, 2020 2:20 p.m.

The east winds are forecast to begin easing up on Thursday. But with no moisture predicted for the next two weeks' weather, there still could be more wildfires in the state.

Rapid and extreme fire weather conditions will continue west of the Cascades through Thursday, fire officials say.

Monday night and early Tuesday morning dry, east winds blew across the Cascades into Western Oregon, causing several wildfires to reignite and starting a new large fire in Marion and Lane Counties.

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Related: Live updates: Follow this story for the latest on wildfires burning across Oregon

Northwest Coordination Center public information officer Angie Lang said the agency is collecting data and evacuations responses from all fires but keeping a close eye on three: the Lionshead fire on the Warms Springs Reservation, the Beachie Creek fire on the Willamette National Forest and the Holiday Farm fire 3 miles west of McKenzie Bridge.

Lang said those three fires were stoked by high winds and rapid-fire progression overnight. The Holiday Farm fire caused rapid level 3 ‘must go’ evacuations in Linn and Marion counties along the Santiam Canyon corridor.

The east winds also caused downed power lines in the Beachie Creek fire and the Incident Command Post, where the fire team is located, were evacuated.

“It’s dangerous and it’s taking a toll on our fire service who are trying to respond to that,” she said.

Lang said the east winds will begin easing up on Thursday and then become on-shore winds. The agency does not anticipate the gusts and sustained high winds will remain at the same intensity as Monday night, but that does not mean that the state won’t see any new wildfires.

“That doesn’t minimize fire danger in the other parts of the state because we are in a warming and dry trend and that is not going to let up for some time,” she said.

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Lang said there is no moisture in the weather forecast for at least the next two weeks.

Currently, there is no indication of the Beachie Creek fire, Lionshead fire and Holiday Farm fire would turn into massive complex fire, yet. Firefighters are currently using infrared technology to better map these fires and determine their size and how close they are to each other.

All communities should be on high alert, especially those in the Santiam Canyon corridor.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality extended an air quality advisory for the Oregon Coast, Willamette Valley, Southwest Washington, and Southern Oregon due to smoke from fires in Oregon and Washington.

Smoke levels are fluctuating between unhealthy for sensitive groups and hazardous in these areas.

“We have fairly large fires that are burning up and down the western side of the state and they’re affecting mostly areas that are very close to them. But in some cases, the Lionshead fire that one is pretty large and that plume of smoke is reaching into far-reaching areas as well,” DEQ’s Laura Gleim said.

She said winds are projected to blow wildfire smoke west towards the coast for the next couple of days. Those close to Detroit, Florence, Chiloquin and Eugene and other communities near fires may be hit with the worst air quality in the state.

Gleim said the public should remain indoors if possible and avoid strenuous outdoor activity. The agency also wants to remind the public that the use of cloth, dust, and surgical masks do not protect from harmful particles in the smoke. The only masks that can provide protection from smoke are N95 masks.

On Tuesday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act in response to the Beachie Creek, Lionshead and Holiday Farm fires.

“Almost every year since becoming Governor, I’ve witnessed historic wildfire seasons,” Brown said in a statement. "This past weekend, we experienced significant wind that is fueling wildfires with devastating consequences across Oregon, on top of a dire pandemic.

The declaration authorizes the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshall to mobilize resources to assist local recourse battling the fires.

This story will be updated.

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