Oregon ablaze

Photo: Oca Hoeflein
Eagle Creek fire

The state is on fire.

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Conflagrations are blazing around the state, and for the first time since Mt. St. Helens — so we are told — ash is falling on Portland. The Eagle Creek and the Chetco Bar Brookings fires are now considered among highest priority blazes in the nation.

Here’s a photo of my bike seat this morning. 

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I rode to work with a bandana around my mouth, and felt as if I had been teleported to China, where the air quality is famously awful and residents routinely wear air masks when they are outside.

If you are looking for riveting coverage of the Eagle Creek fire, look no further than writer Peter Carlin’s facebook page. He and his family were among those who evacuated the Eagle Creek trail over the weekend. (Here, from KATU.com, is the latest on evacuations in the area.)

Fireworks: What are they good for. The Eagle Creek blaze was apparently started by teens playing with firecrackers, and the stunning scope of destruction should add fuel to the debate over legal and illegal fireworks in the state.

Over the past few years, more than a few people and businesses in Portland have been severely damaged by fireworks, and the noise alone has prompted a growing number of people to call for a ban on home displays. The physical, economic and emotional costs are simply too high.

The million dollar question: Will the fires raging around the state create a new sense of urgency around climate change and forest fire management?

EagleCreekCourtesy: Multnomah County Sheriff

I-84 is now closed from Troutdale to Hood River, and Gorge-area businesses said they are feeling the impacts.

“People are a little bit, I wouldn’t say frantic — they are worried,” said Sara Olson, front desk agent for the Hood River Hotel. “We’ve been getting a lot of cancellations.”

“It’s very smoky here,” said a Dalles-area waitress who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record. “We’re hoping for the best.”

Kelly Love, a spokesperson for Legacy Health, said the hospital system has yet to see an uptick in the number of patients seeking relief from asthma or other air-quality related illnesses.

But that could change later in the afternoon if smoky air persists, Love said. 

Providence Health & Services has yet to see a surge of people with smoke – related illness, a spokesperson said.

We will update this page throughout the day.

UPDATE: The OHSU pediatrics emergency department is seeing a “generic” uptick in asthma cases today, a spokesperson said.

UPDATE: Dispatch from Hood River, by Tina Lassen:

If I had to sum up the mood in the Gorge, I would say it’s forlorn.

As I talk with my friends (in person and on social media), most express a profound sense of loss. I was struck by how many instinctively refer to it as “my” or “our” Gorge.

In Hood River, the fire became apparent right away on Saturday afternoon — an ominous swirl of black, orange and pink in the western sky.  

Smoke was already thick in Hood River by Saturday evening. By Sunday morning, the smell of smoke was overwhelming and there was a fine layer of ash on cars and other surfaces throughout town.

This morning, the smell somewhat dissipated with the slight east breeze, but the haze seems to be getting thicker and thicker; you can’t see across the Columbia. It looks similar to the inversion (but much more yellow) that we often get here in the winter.

In fact, it feels a bit like one of those winter days when icy conditions close Interstate 84. With I-84 shut down at Hood River, there is more vehicle traffic downtown and commercial trucks parked down at the port. 

Two big sightseeing ships are docked at the marina, which is uncommon. At least one Hood River restaurant (Stonehedge Gardens) has announced they’re closing today so their staff can prepare in case of evacuation.

People are milling around downtown, but the mood feels subdued, without the usual happy energy typical of Hood River.

Tina Lassen is a journalist in Hood River.