SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Firefighters have made “significant progress” in containing the wildfires in Oregon, but officials warned Thursday the next 24 hours of weather could play a critical part in suppressing or spreading flames.
Storms Thursday evening will bring much needed moisture in Oregon, but the rain may be partnered with lightening and strong winds, which will likely disperse thick smoke covering the state but could also expand wildfires.
“We are expecting some challenges with the weather,” said Doug Grafe the chief of Fire Protection at the Oregon Department of Forestry. “If (wind) comes in front of that storm front— then it is going to push containment lines where we have them established.”
The Oregon Department of Forestry says the upcoming forecast calls for possible lightening strikes, hail and heavy rain.
Parts of Oregon are predicted to receive up to an inch of rain, which could help the thousands of firefighters battling flames across the state, Grafe said.
The National Weather Service in Portland issued a Flash Flood Watch Thursday afternoon for a portion of Northwest Oregon, citing that loose rocks and debris, which has been increased due to the wildfires, will likely fall down hills and into roads.
Due to the expected heavy rainfall, state officials are temporarily suspending recovery work in the area of one of Oregon's largest fires east of Eugene Thursday night into Friday.
Officials are urging residents who have not evacuated to do so now or to remain in their homes during the storm.
The other looming problem that fire officials are closely watching is wind.
“Those winds can certainly push fires and challenge us,” Grafe said. “Hopefully those rains come abruptly after those winds and really put a cap on any significant fire behavior.”
However, officials also said that wind will likely disperse wildfire smoke, that is shrouding Oregon and creating hazardous air quality.
Gabriela Goldfarb, Environmental Public Health Section manager at the Oregon Health Authority, said smoke will clear up for most Oregonians between Friday and Saturday. The exception is eastern Oregon, which will likely to continue to have lingering smoke but is predicted to decrease to less harmful levels.
“Sit tight for another day or two,” Goldfarb said.
Cline is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.