Wildfires, strong winds prompt smoke alert for Portland area


KGW Staff

Posted on September 4, 2011 at 10:06 AM

Updated Monday, Nov 11 at 9:20 AM

PORTLAND - East winds are blowing smoke from fires in Central Oregon into the valleys of Washington and Yamhill counties, prompting many emergency calls, fire officials said Saturday afternoon.

They urged people to consider the situation before calling 9-1-1.

"If you do see flames, a distinct column of smoke, smoke emanating from a structure, or very localized heavy smoke," said Ken Bilederback with Gaston Fire, "don't hesitate to call for an emergency response. Fire danger is very high throughout the region."

The National Weather Service issued an alert Friday for potentially unhealthy levels of smoke from Eugene to Salem and all the way to the southern Portland Metro area over the weekend due to Central Oregon wildfires.

The Department of Environmental Quality urged people in the affected areas to take precautions if smoke reached unhealthy levels.

NWS: Fire weather watch

"Remember that the generalized heavy smoke poses a danger to anyone with asthma or other lung or heart problems," Bilderback said. "If you or someone you know is having difficulty breathing, seek medical help or call 9-1-1 if necessary. If possible, stay indoors in air conditioning. If that is not possible, limit exertion when outdoors.

The NWS forecast hot eastern and southern winds, which were expected to push south across the Cascades and into the Willamette Valley. The smoke could also make its way as far south as Medford.

Real-time Maps: Air quality | Visibility | Wind | Temps

Crews battling the Dollar Lake Fire in the Mount Hood wilderness expected some trails and campgrounds to remain closed over the holiday weekend.

Heavy smoke and low visibility were reported along Highway 35.

More: Weekend fire danger heightened

Fire officials said several trails and campgrounds would be closed over the holiday weekend.

Cloud Cap, Tilly Jane, and Kinnikinnick at Laurance Lake campgrounds would be close, but more than 80 remained open in the wilderness area. More: Forest Service closures

Crews wrapped the historic Cloud Cap Inn with foil and fire retardant, to protect it, along with one other building often used by climbers, called Tilly Jane, that was also threatened.

"We're basically putting high-pressure sprinkler systems on the roofs, and leaving them doused until further notice," explained fire information officer Bernie Pineda.

There were also nearly a dozen homes in a risky area below the fire, near Cooper Spur, but they have not yet been evacuated.

"I know Parkdale , it's not that important cause it is small, but people live up here," neighbor Laurel Deanneryan said. "There's so many people that live up there with their animals, orchards, it's scary."

Two helicopter crews and several smoke jumpers were already fighting the Dollar Lake Complex Fire on the north side of the mountain. Firefighters said their greatest challenge continued to be the heavy smoke and steep terrain, which was making it nearly impossible for them to get close enough to build a fire line.

A community meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Parkdale Fire Department, where fire crews will discuss strategies and tactics, and they'll provide the latest details on the firefighting efforts.

Your Pics: Dollar Lake Complex Fire on Mt. Hood

Crews from all over the West Coast have been called in to help battle the fire. They were setting up camp at the Hood River Fairgrounds Tuesday, with tents, showers and dining areas - everything needed to keep the fire lines covered 24 hours a day.

Authorities believe lightning ignited the fire Sunday and then high winds helped it suddenly explode in size on Monday. Across the state, wildfires were burning about 143,831 acres Wednesday, authorities estimated.

More: Warm Springs fires threaten homes

Authorities closed a stretch of Highway 26 on the Warm Springs Reservation as a precaution off and on since Monday.

More: Check latest traffic alerts

Background: Lightning strikes start hundreds of wildfires

The largest wildfire in Oregon is burning in rangeland west of Fossil and the newest wildfire popped up in the Cascades, just outside Bend on Monday night.

More: New wildfire in Cascades outside Bend

KGW Reporter Abbey Gibb contributed to this report