Wildfire smoke pours into Portland metro, threatening air quality; state warns worse could come

Winds spread smoke from wildfires burning nearby into metro Portland on Monday, prompting an official warning that the air could become dangerous for children and seniors and other sensitive groups.

Parts of Portland strayed into hazardous air quality zones soon after officials issued the advisory, with an air monitor in Southeast Portland registering air pollution levels in a range dangerous for everyone and in a range dangerous for sensitive groups in Durham, Beaverton, North Portland and near Portland International Airport, Gresham and Powell Butte Nature Park.

The precise readings can change hour by hour, said Harry Esteve, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Quality, the agency that issued the warning.

The state’s air quality advisory is set to expire Tuesday afternoon and applies not only to the Portland metro area but also central and southern Willamette Valley and much of central Oregon.

People should consider staying inside, Esteve said, especially in areas where air monitors registered hazardous levels of pollutants. It’s also important to know that the basic masks people wear to protect themselves and others from the coronavirus aren’t effective against wildfire smoke.

If air monitors get into the hazardous-for-everyone range across Portland, the Department of Environmental Quality will warn everybody to stay inside, Esteve said.

What happens next will depend on the strength and direction of the winds, Esteve said, as well as the condition of the fires emitting the smoke.

The National Weather Service has issued a wind warning, forecasting gusts as strong as 55 mph. Two fires are burning on the south and southeast sides of Mount Hood, one near Mount Jefferson and one in the Opal Creek Wilderness.

DEQ gave the following advice for how to protect yourself from smoke:

  • Stay inside if possible and keep windows and doors closed.
  • Don’t do anything strenuous outside if you can avoid it.
  • Be aware of smoke in your area and avoid places with the highest levels.
  • Use HEPA filters that can be either portable or can be installed in indoor heating, ventilation, cooling and air purification systems.
  • Talk to your doctor if you have lung disease or asthma.

— Fedor Zarkhin

fzarkhin@oregonian.com| 503-294-7674| @fedorzarkhin

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