Air quality in Pendleton on Sept. 4 vs. Sept. 5
The layer of smoke that has settled over Oregon is here to stay — at least until the end of the week.
Residents can expect low air quality until Friday across northeast Oregon as wildfires continue to rage in the Pacific Northwest.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued an air quality alert until noon Friday for all of Eastern Oregon.
Fine particles in smoke can cause burning eyes, runny nose and aggravate other serious health problems, such as chronic heart and lung disease. Smoke can also limit visibility. People should limit outdoor activity while the alert is in effect, especially children, the elderly and those with respiratory problems.
The Oregon Health Authority and Umatilla County Public Health Department issued similar press releases Tuesday, urging the public to stay indoors.
“People with chronic diseases should check with their health care provider before wearing a mask,” the department’s press release states. “People with asthma, lung and heart disease, or have had a stroke should check with their health care provider for advice about leaving the area. Anyone with shortness of breath, wheezing, chest pain, heart palpitations, extreme fatigue, or difficulty moving or speaking should call their health care provider or call 911.”
Jim Setzer, the county’s health director, had a two-word piece of advice: “Be prudent.”
Besides staying indoors, Setzer advised Umatilla County residents to cool their houses with air conditioning instead of opening a window, if possible.
The press release further advises residents to set their air conditioning to recirculate and close off air intakes. The county also suggests using indoor air cleaners with HEPA filters and an N-95 respirator mask if residents need to be outside.
If someone starts to feel any ill effects from being outside, Setzer suggested they take a seat to see if it subsides and seek medical attention if it doesn’t.
According to the press release, hospitalizations for lung disease increase by 50 percent during smoky conditions.
Peter Brewer, who coordinates wildfire smoke responses for DEQ, said Umatilla County has been getting smoke from fires in Idaho and Montana, and last week from central Oregon, but this week’s spike was likely tied to the Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia Gorge.
“You’re kind of getting hit from all around,” he said.
He said that many of the government websites featuring air quality and weather information have been crashing from the higher-than-usual traffic, but one useful resource is oregonsmoke.blogspot.com, which combines information on smoke in Oregon from many government sources.
St. Anthony Hospital spokesman Larry Blanc said he spoke with Emergency Department Manager Steve Hardin, who reported that the hospital hasn’t experienced an uptick in emergency room visits so far. Blanc said the hospital is hoping people heed warnings to stay indoors and keep themselves out of the emergency room.
Smoky skies throughout the area caused local schools to shift some of their outdoor activities indoors Tuesday. Pendleton High School canceled outdoor athletics, including boys and girls soccer games against La Grande, and either moved practices indoors or canceled them altogether. Umatilla High School also canceled its scheduled soccer games against Baker.
Pendleton School District Superintendent Chris Fritsch said he drove to a few schools around noon to take stock of the conditions, with the district making the decision to move recess indoors and cancel outdoor sports activities in the early afternoon.
Fritsch said Pendleton schools have the gym capacity to continue holding recess indoors and doesn’t anticipate any other school operations altered as a result of the smoke.
The district will continue to monitor air quality reports and conditions to assess when students can return outdoors.
Many local schools, including Stanfield, Umatilla, and Hermiston, moved recess indoors.
Hermiston School District officials monitored air quality conditions throughout the day, and decided Tuesday morning to move recess inside. Some sporting events were canceled, including boys and girls soccer games in Hillsboro. All outdoor practices were also moved indoors or canceled, and district officials said they would continue monitoring the smoke and make adjustments as necessary.
For more information on air quality, visit www.deq.state.or.us.