High Desert's still-smoky air raises health concerns

Luckily, short-term impacts for healthy lungs

Smoky air raises health concerns

BEND, Ore. - Wildfire smoke -- it's everywhere, inescapable, covering much of Central Oregon like an ashy blanket.

Some aren't letting the smoke get in the way of their late-summer activities, but most are staying inside. The air is obviously dangerous to those with pre-existing heart or respiratory ailments, but what about people with relatively healthy lungs?

It's not recommended for anyone to go outside for a long time in these conditions, but luckily, for those without major respiratory problems, the symptoms are less long-term.

But that doesn't mean it won't affect you.

"For those of us who don't have chronic lung disease, it still can be very irritating, causing a sore throat, coughing, itchy eyes, redness of the eyes, and so forth," Bend Memorial Clinic pulmonologist Kevin Sherer said Wednesday.

And if you do have a pre-existing condition, keep in mind that exposure to the smoke can make your symptoms worse.

So why's all this smoky air staying with us for so long?

"Prevailing winds always come out of the west, but we've had some high pressure over the area that has just kind of swirled this back into the state of Oregon," Chief Meteorologist Bob Shaw said. "Unfortunately, when you're surrounded by fires like we are now, it doesn't really matter which way the wind blows."

I also asked him what's been on everyone's mind lately.

"The No. 1 question I always get is, 'When's the smoke going away, Bob?' he said. "The answer is, when the fires go out. This is like being surrounded by campfires. As soon as someone extinguishes the campfire, you can breathe again. Until then, we have to deal with this."

For a point of reference on when the fires might die down, officials working on the Chetco Bar Fire say it likely won't be fully contained until mid-October.

Sisters schools closed early Wednesday because of the smoke, while Bend-La Pine Schools are using the Oregon health Authority's guidelines in deciding when it's OK to have outdoor recess and other activities.

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