Gorge fires, heat bring bad air to Clark County

ODOT closes Interstate 84 east and west between Troutdale and Exit 62

By John Hill, Columbian Metro Team Editor

Published:

 

Wildfires in the Columbia River Gorge continued to blaze Monday, blanketing the region in a haze as temperatures hit the 90s for the fourth consecutive day.

The combination of heat, smoke and dry conditions led to three separate weather advisories: one for air pollution, one for extreme heat and another warning of potential fire danger.

The situation may worsen if overnight winds sweep the west Columbia River Gorge where firefighters are battling fires near Eagle Creek and Indian Creek in Oregon, Colby Neuman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said Monday night.

“The air quality is likely to worsen,” Neuman said, as winds could lead to the fires spreading and warmer temperatures push the smoke down to lower levels.

Ash fell over the eastern part of the county Monday afternoon.

The Southwest Washington Clean Air Agency issued an air pollution advisory Friday for Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Skamania and Wahkiakum counties. Officials encourage elderly residents, children and people with asthma, lung diseases or other breathing problems to stay indoors.

In Clark County, officials are asking people to be careful and limit their exposure to the heat and smoke.

Randy Querin, a spokesman for PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, said Monday afternoon that physicians had treated one person with asthma whose condition had been exacerbated by the smoke.

“We encourage people with COPD, asthma and other issues to limit their exposure,” Querin said.

The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory that lasts through Tuesday as a “thermal trough” was expected to push temperatures to 100 degrees or higher.

However, the smoke dimmed the sun’s rays enough Monday to lower that high to 92 degrees.

Even though the sun isn’t as intense through the smoke, the heat advisory remains in effect, Neuman said.

That’s partly because the temperatures at night aren’t expected to drop as much as they have been in recent weeks, Neuman added.

“We’re not going to cool off at night like we had been,” he said.

High temperatures led Woodland Public Schools to decide on Monday that it will close schools two hours early Tuesday.

It is unknown whether other public schools will follow suit.

Vancouver Public Schools said on its website that officials were monitoring conditions and have a plan to move students in older buildings where some areas are not air-conditioned into cooler classrooms if needed.

Sports practices have been moved indoors as a precaution.

Pleasant View Church, 801 N.E. 194th St. in Ridgefield, is opening its doors between noon and 4 p.m. Tuesday to welcome community members in need of heat relief. All ages are welcome to come and sit in the cool hall and use the puzzles, books, board games and Wi-Fi.

On top of the other warnings, the hot, dry conditions and unstable weather have led to what’s called a “red flag warning” of extreme fire risk in the region.

The Eagle Creek Fire, which is burning an estimated 3,200 acres, is believed to have been started by someone being careless with fireworks. Oregon State Police said a teenage suspect has been identified and may face arson charges.

The fire was about a quarter-mile outside of Cascade, Locks, Ore., on Monday afternoon, and much of the town was under evacuation notices of varying degrees.

Officials closed Interstate 84 Monday between Troutdale and Hood River, Ore., as the Eagle Creek Fire pushed west. I-84 is closed from Exit 35 to Exit 62.

Over the weekend, the fire cut off the return access for 153 hikers who were told to shelter in place overnight near Tunnel Falls. All of the hikers were accounted for when they left the area on Sunday.