The Portland metro became a steadily more hazardous place to be Monday night as strong easterly winds snapped branches, downed trees, cut off electricity and dumped wildfire smoke that made the air dangerous to breathe.
The winds will likely peak Monday night, start to ease up come Tuesday morning and keep going through Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.
By 9 p.m. Monday, six air monitors stretching from Tualatin to Vancouver, Wash., registered hazardous levels of particulate matter coming from wildfire smoke. That means it is dangerous for anybody to be outside, and especially so for children, seniors, pregnant women and people with lung conditions.
The smoke will probably settle in the Willamette Valley overnight, said Treena Jensen, a senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The state Department of Environmental Quality has issued an air quality and advisory and is recommending people stay inside, windows and doors closed.
The winds have also toppled trees, Jensen said, and will likely continue to do so as wind gusts strengthen to reach about 50 miles per hour. Jensen said people should avoid going hiking in forests while the winds persist.
“Stay away from trees,” Jensen said.
So far, the only property damage the weather service has heard of was a plastic sheeting roof torn off of a greenhouse, Jensen said.
But Portland Fire & Rescue said on Twitter it had responded to multiple reports of trees that had fallen on homes and branches that had fallen on passersby. There were no serious injuries as of the 8:20 p.m. tweet, but it warned people to stay inside.
Tens of thousands of people lost power, meanwhile, including 49,000 in the Portland area and 11,000 in Clark County, Jensen said.
Much of the Northwest is under a red-flag warning for high risk of fire. The warning will remain in place at least until 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Portland General Electric also took the unprecedented step of preemptively cutting power to about 5,000 people near Mount Hood due to fire risk.
Hot, dry weather has left brush primed to ignite, and the winds could help dangerous fires spread rapidly. Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, which serves parts of four metro-area counties, said it was responding to multiple brushfires simultaneously as well as a barn fire just after 8 p.m. Monday.
The intense east winds are a rarity for the area, last seen during the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire that torched large swaths of the Columbia River Gorge. Now, the winds are bringing smoke from a fire in Washington state and one in the Oregon cascades.
Besides for being dangerous to breathe, the smoke the winds have brought has cut visibility up and down the Willamette Valley. On a normal day, people can see more than six miles away. Now, the average visibility is two-and-a-half miles, Jensen said. The airport in Eugene had one-mile visibility.
— Fedor Zarkhin
[email protected]| 503-294-7674| @fedorzarkhin