Central Oregon fire causes unhealthy air in Sisters

Central Oregon fire causes unhealthy air in Sisters
In this Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012 photo, smoke from the Pole Creek Fire obscures the sun near Sisters, Ore., at sunset. The wildfire, burning in heavy downed and dead material just southwest of Sisters, Ore., is estimated to be near 2,000 acres. (AP Photo/The Bulletin, Rob Kerr)

SISTERS, Ore. (AP) — Smoke from a forest fire just a few miles uphill has made the air unhealthy in the Central Oregon town Sisters.

The level of small particles in the air was high in the morning both Tuesday and Wednesday, and reached hazardous levels. The National Weather Service says little change is expected into next week, the Bulletin of Bend reported.

"This is extremely higher than we normally see from wildfire impacts," said Mark Bailey, eastern region air quality manager for the Department of Environmental Quality. "This is very high and very concerning for us."

The fire is only six miles southwest of Sisters, and the smoke has collected in town during the morning — trapped by cold air in what's known as a temperature inversion.

Looking at weather predictions stretching into next week, National Weather Service forecaster Alan Polan said the cycle of morning inversions will keep repeating.

"I don't see much in the way of relief," he said.

The fire, now burning within an area of more than 5,000 acres, has grown, and that may continue with hot and dry weather into the weekend, fire managers said Thursday.

Such conditions were common in the mountain ranges of northern Oregon on Thursday, and the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning. That means fires could start easily and spread quickly. The conditions were expected to last into Friday morning.

The Pole Creek fire hasn't directly threatened Sisters, a tourist and outdoor recreation town of about 2,000 people on the eastern flank of the Cascade Range.

The fire was reported Sunday morning, and hikers and campers fled. Four cars were burned. No injuries were reported.

The Crossroad subdivision west of Sisters has been on evacuation alert since the fire broke out.

A resident, Rebecca Ferrell, 42, said the smoke early Thursday was strong enough to smell indoors.

"It gives you a headache, it makes your ears scratchy," she said. "It is not good for you."
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Information from: The Bulletin