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Smoky haze likely to linger across Central Oregon

Thick smoke from several fires hitting the region

Smoke blanketing CO

BEND, Ore. - Thick smoke is blanketing Central Oregon, and the area’s air quality isn’t just bad, it’s among the worst in the country.

“It’s ridiculous. The view is gone. My sister came out for vacation, and she’s a photographer, and she can’t even take pictures,” Tami Ciciora said Wednesday.

No mountains were visible from the top of the usually scenic Pilot Butte, and it’s not just the view that’s being affected.

“The conditions in Bend are at the unhealthy level," said Katherine Benenati, a spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Quality. "And if you go up to Sisters, in the last 24 hours they’re at the hazardous level, and you’re also seeing unhealthy levels over the last 24 hours in Prineville.” 

Ciciora said the impacts are strong: “Headaches, nausea; you can’t really go out. You see people with masks on. It could be like Shanghai. This is how I picture Shanghai.”

Air quality is measured on a color-coded scale indicating the amount of air pollutant concentration.

“So if you’re looking at 0-50 micrograms per cubic meter, you’re in the good range,” Benenati said. “If it gets up to orange, then it’s unhealthy for sensitive groups. What you guys are seeing is red and purple, which is really unhealthy. So that’s not just people who have asthma or heart conditions who are affected. That can affect everyone.”

Most of Central Oregon's air quality is hovering between unhealthy and hazardous.

“A big contributing factor of the air quality being so bad out there is the Milli Fire,” Benenati said.

But fire officials say it’s not just the Milli Fire.

“One fire cannot produce this level of smoke in our area,” said Jean Nelson-Dean, a public affairs officer for the Deschutes National Forest. “We have a lot of fires going right now.”

According to the Forest Service, there are 16 large fires burning across the state, and winds are pushing the smoke into Central Oregon.

Unfortunately, relief isn’t coming for a while.

“We’re going to see continued high temperatures,” Nelson-Dean said. “That’s going to mean continued growth on fires. We’re going to see really low relative humidity. So that means we don’t get any recovery overnight.”

Fire officials predict several more days of smoky conditions.

Some sites to follow:

DEQ’s Air Quality Index:

http://www.deq.state.or.us/aqi/

The Oregon Smoke Blog:

http://oregonsmoke.blogspot.com/  (Also, find it on Twitter @ORSmokeBlog)

The Oregon Health Authority has specific recommendations on public health and wildfire smoke:

http://www.oregon.gov/oha/ph/Preparedness/Prepare/Documents/OHA%208626%20Wildfire%20FAQs-v6c.pdf

EPA allows you to subscribe to air quality alerts or EnviroFlash alerts:

http://www.enviroflash.info/

5-3-1 visibility Index:

http://www.oregon.gov/deq/aq/Pages/Wildfires-Visibility.aspx


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