NATIONAL NEWS

Seeping Under Doors, Bad Air From West’s Fires Won’t Ease Up

Sep 15, 2020, 3:54 PM
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 12:  Smoke from wildfires obscure the Space Needle and the Seattle skyline ...
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 12: Smoke from wildfires obscure the Space Needle and the Seattle skyline on September 12, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. According to the National Weather Service, the air quality in Seattle remained at "unhealthy" levels Saturday after a large smoke cloud from wildfires on the West Coast settled over the area. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Dangerously dirty air spewing from the West Coast wildfires is seeping into homes and businesses, sneaking into cars through air conditioning vents and preventing people already shut away by the coronavirus pandemic from enjoying a walk or trip to the park.

People in Oregon, Washington state and California have been struggling for a week or longer under some of the most unhealthy air on the planet. The acrid yellow-green smog may linger for days or weeks, scientists and forecasters said.

It is also a sign of things to come. With wildfires getting larger and more destructive because of climate change and more people living closer to areas that burn, smoke will likely shroud the sky more often in the future.

“I don’t think that we should be outside, but at the same time, we’ve been cooped up in the house already for months, so it’s kind of hard to dictate what’s good and what’s bad. I mean, we shouldn’t be outside period,” Portland resident Issa Ubidia-Luckett said Monday.

The hazy air closed businesses like Whole Foods and the iconic Powell’s Books in Portland and suspended garbage pickup in some communities. Pollution and fire evacuations canceled online school and closed some college campuses in Oregon.

“It is so bad that you can likely smell (smoke) inside your house,” said Sarah Present, the health officer for Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties. “In some areas, the air quality is so hazardous it is off the charts of the EPA’s rating scale.”

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Index is considered hazardous between 301 and 500. Values above 500 — which multiple Oregon cities have reported during the past week — are beyond the index’s scale.

The air quality agency extended an alert to Thursday, and the air was so thick that Alaska Airlines stopped flights to Portland and Spokane, Washington, until Tuesday afternoon.

Zoe Flanagan, who has lived in Portland for 12 years, braved the smog to walk her two dogs Monday. In desperation, she and her husband turned on the heater a day earlier because it has a better filter than their air conditioner.

She said the air made her feel hungover, despite not drinking. She could not get enough water, and she had a headache. With health officials urging people to stay inside, the poor air also took away the simple pleasure of being outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Those backyard hangouts that we all got so used to as our one saving grace are now totally gone, and we just have to keep practicing letting go of what normal is,” Flanagan said.

Smoke can irritate the eyes and lungs and worsen some medical conditions. Health experts warned that young children, adults over 65, pregnant women and people with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory conditions were especially vulnerable.

“The lasting effects of breathing the small particulates in the wildfire smoke can be extremely dangerous,” Present said. “It can lead to heart attacks, irregular heart rhythms and even death.”

The region has had a significant increase in visits to emergency rooms due to air quality, officials said Tuesday.

Smoke from dozens of wildfires is pooling in California’s Central Valley, an agricultural region that has some of the state’s worst air quality even when there are no flames. Some parts of central California are not likely to see relief until October, said Dan Borsum, the incident meteorologist for a fire in Northern California.

“It’s going to take a substantially strong weather pattern to move all the smoke,” Borsum said at a briefing Sunday.

Joe Smith, advocacy director for Sacramento Loaves & Fishes, which helps homeless people, said California’s capital city has not seen consistent blue skies in weeks. People without homes have been grappling with an onslaught of disasters this year.

“Some of the toughest folks you’ll ever meet are people who live outdoors, unhoused, but it is getting to them,” Smith said. “We’ve got COVID-19, followed by excessive heat wave, followed by smoke. What’s going to start falling out of the air next on these poor folks?”

Twana James, who lives in a tent in Sacramento, coughed several times, trying to clear her throat, saying her voice is not usually so hoarse.

“Everything is covered in ashes,” she said by phone Monday. “It’s hard to breathe.”

Places like the Oregon Convention Center in downtown Portland are being used as shelters for people who need a dose of healthy air. Typically during wildfires, people can escape to other areas of the state to breathe easy, said Dylan Darling, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

“That’s what’s standing out — there just isn’t a place in Oregon right now to find fresh air,” Darling said. The level of pollution lingering for so long and so widely “really stands out in the state’s history,” he said.

Oregon needs a “perfect balance” of winds to disperse smoke but not exacerbate the fires, said Tyler Kranz, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Portland office.

“We need the winds to get the smoke out of here,” Kranz said. “We just don’t want them to be too strong, because then they could fan those flames, and all of a sudden, those fires are spreading again.”

Ubidia-Luckett was eating outside Monday at a popular burger place east of Portland with her 6-year-old son, but they moved inside because of the bad air, which had postponed the boy’s first day of kindergarten for the second time.

“That’s the hard part for little kids. They’re so cooped up so what do you do?” she asked. “Eventually, they want to go outside.”

___

Associated Press writers Janie Har and Juliet Williams in San Francisco contributed to this report. Cline reported from Salem, Oregon, and is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

J. Alexander Kueng, the former Minneapolis police officer who assisted in the fatal restraint of Ge...
Ray Sanchez and Brad Parks, CNN

Former police officer who helped restrain George Floyd sentenced to 3.5 years in prison

A former Minneapolis police officer who assisted in the fatal restraint of George Floyd was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison Friday for his role in the killing.
23 hours ago
U.S. Sen. Kyrtsen Sinema (D-AZ) speaks at a news conference after the Senate passed the Respect for...
JONATHAN J. COOPER and LISA MASCARO, Associated Press

Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema switches to independent

Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona says she has switched her registration to independent.
23 hours ago
Oranges lay on the ground near a tree after hurricane Ian hit V.C. Holllingsworth's, III, orange gr...
CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press

USDA: Florida orange crop down 36% after twin hurricanes

U.S. officials say Florida's seasonal orange production is forecast to be down 36% from earlier estimates, in part a reflection of twin hurricanes that battered growing regions.
23 hours ago
Questions surround negotiations for prisoner swap to free Brittney Griner...
LEKAN OYEKANMI and ERIC TUCKER Associated Press

Griner in ‘good spirits’ in US after Russian prisoner swap

Brittney Griner returned to the United States Friday and was reunited with her wife nearly 10 months after her detention in Russia made the basketball star the most high-profile American jailed abroad and set off a political firestorm.
23 hours ago
JIm Beam is selling hug-simulating pajamas for the holidays.
Mandatory Credit:	Jim Beam...
Parija Kavilanz, CNN

Jim Beam offers novel fix for holiday blues: hug-simulating pajamas

Bourbon brand Jim Beam is offering what could possibly be the weirdest gift for the holidays — hug-simulating pajamas.
23 hours ago
Patrick Giblin in an undated arrest photo. He portrayed himself to women as a wealthy romantic look...
Faith Karimi, CNN

A fake Romeo charmed over 100 women, then scammed them

Patrick Giblin was like the American version of the "Tinder Swindler" -- but without the private jets.
23 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Seeping Under Doors, Bad Air From West’s Fires Won’t Ease Up