Wildfires across Oregon threaten public health and wildlife

General Corvallis City Section Graphic

The sky is a bright red. The air is hard to breathe. Some would say it looks like a scene from a sci-fi movie set on mars, but instead, the images were taken from various areas around the state of Oregon, including Corvallis. 

As an after effect from the several burning wildfires that started around the state following the Sept. 7 windstorm, smoke blanketed not only the Willamette Valley, but it also reached the Portland Metro area. The windstorm created perfect conditions for wildfires to start. 

There are several fires burning in our area, including the Holiday Farm Fire, which is burning outside of Eugene; the Beachie Creek, Riverside and Lionshead fires, which are currently burning east of Portland, centered around the Mount Hood National Forest; the Echo Mountain Fire burning outside of Lincoln City; and many other fires burning in Southern Oregon centered around the Cities of Medford and Roseburg. 

With this, the air quality of the Pacific Northwest had obtained some of the worst air quality in the world. 

“The air quality is currently ranked as very unhealthy in Corvallis and expected to remain at that level through at least [September 15],” said Alyssa Rash, the public information officer for Benton County in an email statement. “The air quality in Albany is slightly worse and ranked at the dangerous level.” 

The smoke levels in the city have dissipated since the rainstorm last Thursday, where heavy rains helped conditions for fire crews to combat the fires.

The fires are still not contained, and the causes of the fires are still under investigation. 

Meanwhile, the city has deployed firefighters to the affected areas, including the Holiday Farm Fire, the Beachie Creek Fire, and the Echo Mountain Fire, as they have returned. 

According to Patrick Rollens, public information officer for the city of Corvallis, the city has published guidelines on how to safely clean up ash. He notes that if any further fires threaten Corvallis, the city is ready to act.

“The City of Corvallis provides fire protection services to all properties within the Corvallis city limits, with additional coverage to properties within the Corvallis Rural Fire Protection District,” Rollens said via email. “Other parts of Benton County are served by various fire departments: Philomath Fire Department, Monroe Rural Fire Protection District, Alsea Rural Fire Protection District, and a few more. We have mutual aid agreements with all of these organizations so that we can support each other and keep our communities safe during a big fire.” 

Wildlife has also been taking refuge inside the city, according to Erika Seirup, operations & outreach coordinator for the Chintimini Wildlife Center.

“We have been receiving smoke related calls (wildlife seeking refuge from the thick smoke and hazardous air quality) and have higher than average orphan intakes at this time” Seirup said via email. 

While things are calming down now, the nearby fires are still raging and are not currently fully contained, however it does seem like the worst is behind us. 

However, Rash has a warning. 

“While smoky air is the most obvious hazard today, COVID-19 remains active in our communities,” Rash said. “We urge everyone to continue COVID-19 safety procedures while also responding to the air quality and wildfire hazards in Oregon. Continue to wear masks, maintain six feet of distance from others outside your household, and wash your hands frequently. When sheltering indoors out of the smoky air with people outside of your household, these precautions are especially important.”

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