(Update: adding video, new information, comments from USFS official & folks affected by smoke)
Though not so ideal for 'unhealthy' south-county air quality
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- It wasn't hard to miss Thursday's 350-acre prescribed burn west of Bend near Phil's Trailhead. Smoke was expected, though the amount was not fully anticipated. It led to poor air quality in southern Deschutes County.
"When you think about your campfire, and how much just your campfire will put up a lot of smoke, imagine that times 350 acres,” U.S. Forest Service Public Affairs Officer Kassidy Kern told NewsChannel 21.
The prescribed burn took place in an area which, according to the Forest Service, is a critical landscape they've been working on for several years.
"We have basically the puzzle that is west Bend,” Kern said. “This was -- this is -- one of the final pieces that put this landscape in a more resilient position."
Kern said the Deschutes National Forest scheduled the prescribed burn for Thursday, not in spite of -- but because of the strong northeasterly winds that were forecast and we had throughout the day.
“We are looking for winds that are going to pick this smoke up and push it out of Bend,” Kern said. “The smoke has to go somewhere, and unfortunately, we do have smoke impacts south of Bend.”
Southern Deschutes County, specifically Sunriver and La Pine, were recording ‘Unhealthy’ air quality levels late Thursday afternoon.
Bruce Smith, a homeowner in Sunriver, told NewsChannel 21, “(We were) just doing some work on our house, and every time we would walk out to cut this or cut that, it was getting a little bit smokier."
Mandy Cramer, who was visiting from Salem, said, “We're here on vacation. I expected to be outdoors the whole time. It was so smoky. I was kind of worried about bringing my kids out to ride bikes and just play."
Kern said that's a small price people have to pay now, in order to have protection during fire season.
"When wildfire does come -- and it will come,” she warned, “we need to be able to safely put firefighters in there to engage it. Doing prescribed burns like this help us protect our communities.”
The Forest Service finished ignitions on the fire Thursday evening.
Ignitions are complete on the 350 acre #prescribedburn west of Bend near Phil’s Trailhead. Smoke will continue to disperse through tonight; please be sure to close windows tonight & stay hydrated if you’re in a smoke sensitive category. Smoke will lift by late morning tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/ji8K5CCsXm— Deschutes National Forest (@DesNatlForest) April 16, 2021
Kern said cooler temperatures and calmer winds overnight could make the air quality dip again, before it improves and clears out by mid-morning Friday.
She said more prescribed burns are planned in the coming weeks, including Friday near La Pine, so people should expect to see more smoke in that span.