Wildfire Smoke Is Turning Portland’s Air Orange. Where’s It Coming From?

It’s the Cedar Creek Fire in Central Oregon, and it’s only 12% contained.

EN PLEIN AIR: Painters above the Mount Tabor Reservoir under a yellow sky on Sept. 10. (Mick Hangland-Skill)

Portland’s sky turned orange this morning as smoke from the Cedar Creek Fire blotted out the sun.

The smoke plume from the fire “made a big shift overnight,” blanketing the city, KGW meteorologist Chris McGinness reported this morning.

Fortunately, the air quality in Portland is not yet as bad as it looks. Conditions across the city are rated “moderate,” according to data from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. But they’re worsening by the hour.

The Multnomah County Health Department banned wood burning this afternoon and recommends Portlanders “stay inside with windows and doors closed.” The National Weather Service adds: “Pollutants in smoke can cause burning eyes, runny nose, aggravate heart and lung diseases, and aggravate other serious health problems.”

Both the county and NWS expect conditions to improve tomorrow as a coastal wind blows the smoke plume east of town.

The Cedar Creek Fire has grown substantially over the past few days as hot, dry and windy conditions fan the flames. It was triggered by a lightning strike Aug. 1 and now covers around 74,000 acres of forest in Lane County east of Eugene. On Friday evening, authorities evacuated the town of Oakridge, population 3,300, fearing that high winds would drive the fire into town.

“Extreme fire behavior” is expected today, says Ian Morrison, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, in an update about fire conditions this morning. As of then, the fire was 12% contained.

Also contributing modestly to the smoke in the air: a new wildfire that ignited last night at the entrance to Milo McIver State Park west of Escacada. Campers in the park had to be evacuated in the middle of the night, the Salem Statesman Journal reports.

The smoke somewhat obscures a largely successful campaign by Oregon’s public utilities to forestall disaster by turning off the power grid for more than 30,000 customers during this weekend’s high winds. This afternoon, Portland General Electric announced that the highest winds had passed and that it had begun restoring power to customers in Washington County.

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