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Most of Oregon Is Now Under an Air Quality Advisory, Thanks to Wildfire Smoke

Even people without respiratory conditions and smoke sensitives should exercise caution.

There’s yet another reason to avoid the outdoors this week.

Along with the dangerous heat wave we’re currently in, Portland is now getting smoke from wildfires. Today, the Oregon Department of Air Quality issued an air quality advisory for the Willamette Valley and most of the rest of Oregon.

Though other parts of Oregon—and as far away as the East Coast—have already borne out poor air quality due to fires in the west, Portland has been relatively lucky and avoided smoke for most of the summer. That changed this week when air swirling around a system of high pressure brought in smoke from as far south as California.

National Weather Service meteorologist Clinton Rockey compares the weather system to a pinwheel.

“As the air flows around the pressure,” he says, “anything that’s between us and California, we’re getting that smoke.”

Thankfully, here in Portland, much of that smoke is remaining aloft. At around 8,000 to 12,000 feet, it’s blocking out some sunlight and slightly cooling off an overheated Portland.

But it’s still impacting the city’s air quality. Much of the Portland area now ranks “moderate” on the Air Quality Index scale, meaning that people with smoke sensitivities should limit their time outside.

“The highest we’re going to see is ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’,” says Nadege Dubuisson, the air quality coordinator for Multnomah County Environmental Health. “Even then, it’s going to be only for a few hours.”

Still, even people without respiratory conditions and smoke sensitives should exercise caution—those fine particles hanging over the city can build up in the lungs over time.

If you do decide to spend time outside, Dubuisson encourages Portlanders to take it easy.

“I would just tone down the level of activity,” she says. “Instead of a sprint around the track, maybe take a walk instead. Personally speaking, I’m going to keep my toddler inside for the rest of the day.”

The smoke is expected to to clear out by early next week, barring any new wildfires. Until then, “the more time you can spend inside is probably better,” says Dubuisson. “Know where to go to look for air quality because it changes so quickly.”

Up-to-date air quality ratings can be found here.