A wildfire that has been burning through the Columbia River Gorge since Saturday afternoon is now dumping ash on Portland as it tears through more than 3,200 acres of fir trees and brush in one of the area's most beloved natural areas.
Longtime residents of the city say this is the first time they could recall a heavy ash falling on Portland since the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980—a disturbing measure of the damage wrecked by record heat, parched forests and horseplay with fireworks.
Homes in the gorge towns of Warrendale and Dodson have been evacuated because of the flames, and people living in Cascade Locks have been advised to be ready to leave immediately if the fire grows. The Red Cross is assisting displaced residents at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham.
Officials closed I-84 for 27 miles, between exit 35 and exit 62, except for people using the road to evacuate.
The fire started nearly two days ago when two teenage boys tossed fireworks from a cliff along Eagle Creek Trail. Dry brush at the bottom of the cliff ignited and the flames spread quickly, trapping more than 150 hikers on the trail. They were rescued Sunday morning.
On Monday afternoon, the winds in the gorge shifted—forcing further evacuations, shutting down the interstate and sending plumes of smoke into Portland.
Ash began falling across the city shortly before 5 pm.
The National Weather Service's Portland station says to expect ash to keep falling throughout the day Tuesday. "It's very light, so it doesn't impact the overall air quality much," the NWS writes on Twitter. "But air is not great to start with, so staying inside not a bad plan."
Portland Public Schools has announced it will end the Tuesday school day two hours early because of heat and smoke.