PENDLETON — After a few days of relatively clean air in the Columbia Basin while unprecedented wildfires burned upward of 900,000 acres on the other side of the state, western winds filled the Eastern Oregon skies with a gray haze of smoke on Friday, Sept. 11.

According to air monitoring data provided by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the Air Quality Index, which measures the amount of pollutants in the air, reached unhealthy levels of 160 in Pendleton by 11 a.m. on Sept. 11.

As a result, the National Weather Service in Pendleton issued an air quality advisory for 12 Eastern Oregon counties, including Umatilla and Morrow, until at least noon on Monday, Sept. 14, with winds expected to push the smoke east through the weekend.

“Wildfires burning in the region combined with forecasted conditions will cause air quality to reach unhealthy to hazardous levels,” the advisory stated. “When smoke levels are hazardous everyone needs to take steps to protect themselves.”

Unhealthy levels of smoke and the pollutants it contains can cause burning eyes, runny noses, and aggravate health disease, lung disease and other health conditions. The Oregon Health Authority has warned that the poor air quality caused by wildfires can aggravate those with or recovering from COVID-19.

“Let me tell you, the worst thing you can do in the middle of a smoke storm is also have a respiratory disease,” Umatilla County Public Health Director Joe Fiumara said.

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