Unhealthy Wildfire Smoke More Prevalent, Says Oregon DEQ

Jul 16, 2021

Wildfire smoke choked many Oregon cities in 2020. This photo was taken in downtown Eugene on Sept. 7, 2020.
Credit Angela Kellner / KLCC

The past few years have seen an increase in the number of days in Oregon with unhealthy air quality due to wildfire smoke.

  

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality released its second annual Wildfire Smoke Trends report. It’s pretty easy to sum up the findings, said Tom Roick, air quality monitoring manager for DEQ.

“The number of unhealthy air quality days related to wildfires is definitely increasing across the state, particularly in the last five years,” he said. 

It’s not just the number of days with bad air that’s on the rise. It’s also the intensity of the smoke and its geographic reach.

 

For instance, from 1988 through 2014, the DEQ says Eugene/Springfield didn’t have a single day of unhealthy air quality due to wildfire smoke. Since then, there have been 28 days, with more than half of those deemed unhealthy for all residents, not just those considered to be at risk due to age or health conditions.

Similar trends have been observed in other Willamette Valley cities including Albany and Salem.

The report shows that Bend, Medford and Klamath Falls have been hit especially hard by the increase in unhealthy air quality.

Overall, last year was the worst on record in Oregon when it comes to wildfire smoke, thanks in large part to the catastrophic fires that broke out around the state on Labor Day weekend.

"Last September, we had higher concentrations of smoke than we’ve had historically at any time in the past since we’ve been measuring, back to 1985,” said Roick. 

The report comes as several large wildfires continue to rage in parts of central and southern Oregon.

The Oregon DEQ issued an air quality advisory Friday for parts of Harney, Lake, and eastern Klamath counties due to smoke from the Bootleg Fire in Klamath County.