Wildfires continue in Oregon, but much of state to see improved air quality soon

By OPB staff (OPB)
Sept. 11, 2022 4:16 p.m. Updated: Sept. 12, 2022 12:51 a.m.

Calmer winds and cooler temperatures on Sunday helped firefighters gain ground on several wildfires burning in Oregon.

From Estacada to Oakridge, evacuation orders for communities in different parts of Oregon were either downgraded or lifted altogether Sunday, following two days of extreme wildfire activity and smoky air.

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The National Weather Service says returning onshore flow will help lingering smoke and haze across the area to gradually clear from west to east through Sunday night, resulting in improving air quality.

Meanwhile, nearly 50,000 Oregon homes and businesses in Portland General Electric and Pacific Power territory started having their power restored Sunday after the utilities cut power days as a preventative measure. The companies planned shut offs in an effort to keep powerlines hit by strong winds from sparking fresh wildfires.

Here the latest wildfire developments across the region:

Smoke turns the morning light orange on Saturday in this photo taken near the Huckleberry Lookout, provided by the Cedar Creek Fire Incident Command.

Smoke turns the morning light orange on Saturday in this photo taken near the Huckleberry Lookout, provided by the Cedar Creek Fire Incident Command.

Cedar Creek Fire Incident Command via InciWeb

Wildfire in Lane County cools off

Officials downgraded some evacuation orders for the communities of Oakridge and Westfir, which had been under evacuation since Friday due to the Cedar Creek Fire.

Updated evacuation information can be found here.

The fire had quadrupled in size since late last week, threatening thousands of homes and draping the Interstate 5 corridor, including the Portland metropolitan area, in heavy smoke. It began during a lightning storm on Aug. 1.

Gusty winds, high temperatures and dry conditions late last week and into Saturday exacerbated the fire, fueling its growth from about 18,000 acres on Wednesday to more than four times that number by Sunday.

As of Sunday, it had grown to nearly 86,000 acres, officials said, and the fire “breached existing lines,” meaning containment dropped to 0%. Officials ordered evacuations on Friday as the fire threatened more than 2,200 homes and hundreds of commercial buildings.

Firefighters said Sunday they had completed strategic burning operations along the fire’s northwest edges and were working to set up protective measures along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, a 66-mile stretch of highway east of the fire dotted with campgrounds and resorts, including the Mt. Bachelor ski area, which is hosting a fire command center. Crews also started preparing to create structural reinforcements around Lava Lake Resort.

“These fire breaks are high priority and will likely take most of a week to complete,” officials said.

There’s a temporary evacuation point stationed at Lane Community College and the Lane Events Center in Eugene. More updated information can be found on Lane County’s website.

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The rural and mountainous area affected by the Cedar Creek fire is mostly within the Willamette National Forest, a popular recreation destination with lakes and trails. Much is currently closed to the public.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Friday invoked an emergency conflagration act in response to the fire to make more firefighting resources available to local agencies.

Evacuations downgraded in Clackamas, Marion counties

The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office downgraded and lifted many evacuations for areas near the Milo McIver State Park, where a wildfire had been burning since Friday.

The fire triggered Level 3 “Go Now” evacuations Friday night, leading to an evacuation order for nearby residents, as gusty winds fanned flames across the state. As of Sunday afternoon, many of those evacuations were downgraded, but the park remained under a Level 3 evacuation.

Firefighters also gained ground on a grass fire south of Salem in the Vitae Springs area, which had triggered evacuations for several communities. Many evacuations have been lifted.


Smoke across western Oregon thins out, including the Portland region

Several air quality monitors went offline Saturday night and into Sunday morning because of power outages and issues with a server at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

Those monitors appeared to be working again by Sunday afternoon, showing air quality ranging between moderate and unhealthy levels in different parts of the state.

That was an improvement from hazardous air blanketing much of the Eugene and Oakridge area amid the Cedar Creek Fire.

Power outages come to an end

Power continues to be restored to many residents who had their power cut as part of the public safety power shutoffs meant to decrease fire danger. Several power companies instituted the shutoffs between Friday night and Saturday afternoon in communities across Western Oregon.

Portland General Electric had shut off power to 50,000 homes and businesses. The utility company began restoring power for most neighborhoods by Sunday morning. The full list of PGE shutoffs is available here.

Pacific Power said about 12,000 customers were affected by the shutoffs, but the utility restored power to all customers by Saturday afternoon. Its full list is available here.

NPR and KLCC contributed to this report.

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