Oregon wildfires causing unhealthy air quality

By Joni Auden Land (OPB)
Sept. 12, 2022 5:57 p.m.

The air in and around Oakridge will move between ‘unhealthy’ and ‘very unhealthy’ over the next few days, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

People in Central Oregon woke up Monday morning to the smell of smoke and ash, as nearby wildfires have blanketed the region in smoke, leading to unhealthy air quality for many areas.

The Old Mill District in Bend is seen through the smoke in Bend, Sept. 12, 2022. Much of Central Oregon is experiencing unhealthy air quality due to wildfires.

The Old Mill District in Bend is seen through the smoke in Bend, Sept. 12, 2022. Much of Central Oregon is experiencing unhealthy air quality due to wildfires.

Joni Auden Land / OPB


Strong east winds over the weekend caused the Cedar Creek Fire in nearby Lane County to grow quickly to more than 86,000 acres. That wind has died down and it’s helping crews get a handle on the fire again. But it also means heavy smoke is hanging over the region.

As of Monday morning, Bend and La Pine were experiencing hazardous air quality conditions, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Prolonged exposure could be dangerous for those with respiratory issues.

Joe Solomon, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Pendleton, said the Cedar Creek Fire is producing much of the smoke in the region. While conditions are expected to improve for the fire, he said the smoke will remain for several days at least.

“That fire is going to continue to produce smoke throughout this week and probably for multiple weeks until we have some more season-ending events, where we get more substantial rain on the fires,” Solomon said.

La Pine, located just south of Bend, is experiencing some of the worst smoke conditions so far, with the air quality there measuring at 450. Anything above 100 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups. La Pine City Manager Geoff Wullschlager said visibility in the city was extremely low, and that the ashy conditions felt “like Armageddon.”


“You can feel the smoke because the air is so gritty,” he said.

A spokesperson for St. Charles Health System, the largest provider in the region, said the system’s La Pine clinic would be closed Monday, given the unsafe air quality, and that other sites in Bend and Sisters were being monitored for potential closures.

Related: Weekend of wildfires in Oregon forces evacuees to flee their homes

In Northeast Oregon, the Double Creek Fire is burning more than 150,000 acres in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

Due primarily to the smoke from those two fires, the air quality alerts are in effect in parts of thirteen counties ranging from the southern Willamette Valley to the eastern border: Baker, Crook, Deschutes, Lane, Grant, Harney, Klamath, Lake, Malheur, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa and Wheeler Counties

People in the affected areas are advised to limit the time they spend outdoors, and monitor the air quality by visiting AirNow.gov.

Oregon DEQ also offered the following tips for when smoke levels are high:

  • Stay inside if possible; keep windows and doors closed
  • Avoid strenuous outdoor activity
  • Use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in indoor ventilation systems or portable air purifiers
  • Be aware of smoke in your area and avoid places with the highest levels
  • When air quality improves to moderate or healthy (yellow or green on the Air Quality Index), open windows and doors to air out homes and businesses
  • If you have a breathing plan for a medical condition, be sure to follow it and keep any needed medications refilled

Much of Northwest Oregon, including the Portland metro area, was seeing moderate air quality Monday.


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