Lauren Melink | KTVZ News | August 23, 2018
BEND, Ore. – The West Coast is inundated with smoke from wildfires, and Central Oregonians are definitely feeling it.The air quality index on Thursday sat between 150 and 200 for most of Central Oregon, even reaching 193 in the late afternoon in Bend — and later into the “very unhealthy” category at 220.
Much of the smoke is blowing in from the 3,200-acre Terwilliger Fire at Cougar Reservoir on the Willamette National Forest, still only 1 percent contained according to updates posted on the forest’s Facebook page.
According to experts, breathing in air with pollution levels that high is equal to smoking about seven cigarettes in one day.
Leroy Abney, who has lived in Bend for 28 years, said the smoke seems especially harsh this time.
“We’ve noticed we’ve been coughing a little more,” Abney said. “We want to go hiking, but not sure we should. Came up here to see if we should or not. These last two years have been really bad. I can’t say it’s been this bad before.”
When the air quality index gets above 150, experts suggest that everyone limit their outdoor exercise and that sensitive groups such as children, the elderly or people with lung problems or asthma avoid it altogether.
Central Oregon’s current air pollution level is actually worse than the air pollution in both Shanghai and Mumbai. But a Bend family physician at Summit Medical Group Oregon , Dr. Mattie Towle, said that that shouldn’t scare you too much.
“The difference is that Mumbai has those levels on a chronic day-to-day basis, mostly from an industrial basis and motor vehicle traffic,” Towle said. “Here, it’s sort of a natural event. It’s seasonal. It’s temporary. It’s not from a smokestack on the edge of town. We’re not exposed to this day in and day out, 365 days a year.”
Towle also said it’s unlikely a few weeks of smoke will cause permanent damage to your health, unless you are suffering from respiratory issues already.