Community, Wildfires

Smoky skies, watery eyes

Cedar Creek wildfire begrimes Willamette Valley

Smoke settled into the valley, prompting air quality levels to decrease across Lane County, as seen above the Rosboro Mill in Springfield, looking east.

A thick cloud of haze has settled over the Southern Willamette Valley this week as emergency response crews combat the Cedar Creek Fire. The fire is located approximately an hour SE. of the valley, raging across 87,000 acres, 15 miles east of Oakridge and 20 miles west of La Pine. As of presstime Tuesday, the fire is 0% contained. 

An army of firefighters from across the nation is helping battle the 6-week-old blaze that exploded in weekend heat and winds, forcing evacuations, power outages and highway and forest closures.

High winds over the weekend carried wildfire smoke into the valley, affecting the quality of air for residents across Lane County. But cooler, calmer weather has improved conditions, officials said Monday as evacuation levels were lowered, Highway 58 reopened and thick smoke poured into communities east and west of the fire.

In Springfield, Creswell and Cottage Grove, the air quality reached the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” category, Lane Regional Air Protection officials said in a Thursday announcement. Sensitive groups include children, people older than 65, pregnant women and people with heart disease or respiratory conditions. In Oakridge, air quality has worsened to “very unhealthy” levels, according to LRAPA.

“Right now, there’s a bit of a daily wind pattern that we’re seeing, where 

there’s a slight easterly component to the winds, so all that smoke, from the Cedar Creek Fire to our west, is blown just eastward enough,” said Travis Knudsen, LRAPA’s public affairs officer. “When temps cool down at night and all the air starts to sink and settle into the valley, that smoky air will sink and settle into our region.” 

LRAPA officials say if the area sees strong easterly winds, that means more smoke, which may have an impact on air quality in the Thurston area, toward Dexter Lake. 

“It’s best that the public stay clued into what the air quality is, especially when we have wildfires in the area, because all it takes is a change in the wind direction, and suddenly smoke can blow in,” Knudsen said. 

In the event the air quality index reports new unhealthy levels, LRAPA recommends residents close their doors and windows to protect their indoor air quality, and use air purifiers if possible. Until then, children and pets are safe to continue to recreate outdoors. 


Knudsen says he does not expect air quality to be affected as much as it was during the Holiday Farm Fire for the Eugene-Springfield area.

“Over the last few years, compared to what we have seen a decade or so ago, wildfires are much more common on the landscape than they used to be. And as a result, air quality impacts are more commonly seen as well,” he said. 

Smoke can irritate the eyes and lungs and worsen some medical conditions. People can protect themselves and their families when smoke levels are high by:

■ Staying inside if possible and keeping windows and doors closed. If it’s too hot, run air conditioning on recirculate or consider moving to a cooler location.

■ Avoiding strenuous outdoor activity.

■ Using high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in indoor ventilation systems or portable air purifiers.

■ Being aware of smoke in the area and avoiding places with the highest levels.

■ Waiting until air improves to moderate or healthy then opening windows and doors to air out homes and businesses.

■ Following any breathing plans for medical conditions and keeping any needed medications filled.