Smoke from western wildfires causes health concerns

TROUTDALE, Ore. — A growing Oregon wildfire covered parts of Portland’s metropolitan area Tuesday with ash and prompted the shutdown of a lengthy stretch of highway through the state’s scenic Columbia River Gorge. 

It was one of dozens of wildfires burning in western U.S. states that sent smoke into cities from Seattle to Denver – prompting health warnings and cancellations of outdoor activities for children by many school districts. According to CBS Denver, doctors say residents, especially those with lung or heart problems, should avoid the outdoors until the haze clears up. 

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, a federal agency that coordinates wildfire-fighting, said 80 large fires were burning on 2,200 square miles in nine Western states.

The 16 square mile fire east of Portland forced hundreds of home evacuations. Embers from the fire drifted in the air across the Columbia River – sparking blazes in neighboring Washington state.

The wildfire grew rapidly late Monday and overnight, giving authorities just minutes to warn residents on the Oregon side of the river to leave their homes. 

One section of Interstate 84 was closed because of thick smoke and falling ash was extended 50 miles east of Portland as flames reached the roadway, said Dave Thompson, a spokesman for Oregon’s Department of Transportation.

“If it jumps the road, you’d be driving through a wall of flame,” he said. “It’s just not safe.”

People in Oregon covered their faces to shield themselves from the smoke and the ashes falling on them.

“You can’t really stand outside without getting rained on” by ash, said Joanna Fisher as she walked to work at a Troutdale, Oregon naturopathic clinic with Calla Wanser, who was wearing a red bandanna around her mouth to keep the ash out of her lungs.

Elsewhere, a fast-moving wildfire in northern Utah swept down a canyon Tuesday morning – destroying structures, forcing evacuations and closing highways. 

At least one home burned and more than 1,000 people were evacuated as high winds fed the flames in the canyon north of Salt Lake City. Thick black smoke closed parts of two highways as firefighters struggled to fight the blaze fueled by wind gusts at up to 40 mph.

A fire in Montana’s Glacier National Park emptied its busiest tourist spot as wind gusts drove the flames toward the doorstep of iconic Lake McDonald Lodge, a 103-year-old Swiss chalet-style hotel that sits on a lake as the famed Going-to-the-Sun-Road begins its…

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