Skip to Content

Smoke from Willamette NF fire streams into Bend; air quality improves from ‘hazardous’ level

Wildfire smoke satellite image 816
C.O. Fire Management Service
Smoke from several wildfires blew east into Central Oregon on Monday, Aug 16
Smoke red sun Chris McKennie Redmond
Chris McKennie
Thick wildfire smoke turned the sun red across a wide swath of the High Desert on Monday, including this view from Redmond

(Update: Air quality index improves to 'moderate')

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Thick smoke from a wildfire on the Willamette National Forest blew into the High Desert on Monday afternoon and evening, making for “hazardous” air quality readings in Bend.

The Gales Fire, part of the Middle Fork Complex on the Willamette Forest, put up a smoke plume visible from Eugene and other areas as it crossed Forest Road 18 and moved northeast in the area of the Tiller Creek drainage, officials said. The group of fires that broke out in late July have burned more than 9,200 acres and are just 7% contained.

While air quality readings from E::Space Labs (map is halfway down our weather page) improved to moderate or even good from Tumalo north to Redmond, but in Bend, the air quality index hit nearly 500 – twice as bad as the minimum “Hazardous” level. Lesser, but still-hazardous levels were reported in the La Pine and Sunriver areas.

And if you had never visited Central Oregon before Monday evening, there's a chance you'd have no idea the Cascades even existed based on these conditions.

Typically during the evening hours, you can see residents on walks, jogging or riding bikes, but that was not the case on Monday evening.

NewsChannel 21 spoke to several people in downtown Bend to see if the thick smoke put a damper on their evening plans.

Will and Dotty Watson were still out celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary while visiting from Seattle amid all the smoke.

"We walked outside, and it was clear -- I thought," the husband said. "It was a little windy so I thought it was going to blow over. And my eyes started burning as soon as we walked outside, and I was like , "Holy smokes -- for real, smokes! It's insane."

His wife Dotty says they've experienced conditions like this up in Seattle, but they were surprised how quickly the smoke came in.

"It's gotten a lot worse -- just in the two hours we were in the restaurant, it's gotten significantly worse," Dotty Watson said.

The Watsons say they fear this will be the new normal on the West Coast during the summer months, but they still plan on golfing Tuesday.

And for friends Jim S. and Johnny Adams, the smoke was not going to stop their evening.

"I'm visiting Jim, he said the weather would be good and I would have fresh air, but you see how that turned out," Adams jokingly said. "I can smell it, and if it gets any thicker, I might have to swim."

Jim S. says he lives here during the summers and is used to the smoke in recent years, but he does miss having a mountain view.

"I can't see the mountains. I love to see the mountains, and that's the biggest drawback," Jim S. said. "I told him (Adams) to come up and see the mountains, this and that, so we're going to have to go to them tomorrow." 

As predicted, the smoke relented overnight, and Bend's air quality improved to mostly "moderate" levels Tuesday morning, though the smoke is expected to return later in the day, amid a big cooldown.

Author Profile Photo

Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.

Author Profile Photo

Alec Nolan

Alec Nolan is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Alec here.



  1. This is the direct result of the environmentalists and the forest service boot licking them. The area this complex is burning is in heavy timber that is so overgrown, the roads are not passable. Google earth it. Before psychotic people like nevertrumper start crying climate change. If this and other areas just like it had been managed properly these fires would not be happening. Especially to the degree they are. This is infuriating. The utter incompetence of the forest service. These district managers in Oregon presiding over this gross negligence should all be fired!

    1. Wait, so three generations of loggers know more than scientists who have been studying the ecology of our forests for just as long? Sounds like you listen to the people who have manifested their destiny turning logs into big bills. At no time since we started to log our forests has soil moisture content been so low. Combine that with the hottest summer with unprecedented heat and the woods go boom! It’s actually a great thing to let them burn, allow primary succession to take place, and produce a forest that can adapt to a planet with a blanket in our atmosphere caused by us truly.

        1. I am. You denied global warming and now Bend is becoming Bakersfield. Your response shows your dim wits whereas my first response was educated and well written. Thanks for bringing my California up here you tiny feather floating in the wind.

    2. Private forest lands are really obvious in most of the cascade range because they are far more extensively clearcut and are on short rotations if replanted at all. So ya that might reduce the fuel load but increase carbon dioxide levels.
      Large portions of the national Forest were once private but then after they clearcut everything it was too expensive to maintain so they turned it back over to the forest service. The cost of managing those forests for the long term we’re not really built into the timber sale prices. There is a huge backlog in our national forests that needs thinning and controlled burning but they don’t have the manpower or budget for it.
      America and the rest of the world got a lot of cheap lumber to build houses with. It’s like a lot of things in this country. We have big problems to deal with because of short sighted greed. Our use/abuse of fossil fuels is no different. Party on…
      All the easy money the government has been cranking out for the last 15 years? We will or hopefully someone besides us will have to pay the price for that too.

    3. But didn’t the management of fire in the National Forests start as protection of the lumber as a resource for logging? and now that it’s got out of control it’s the enviros fault, right

  2. And we still have folks that want to move here and buy their overpriced particle board garbage home? Idiots! What do you expect from the self absorbed that voted against their own workers? Then call themselves progressive. Hahahahahaha. Maybe this will send you all back

  3. Where is the laughing emoji!
    As much as I trust our local forecast the last one I recall stated shifting winds which will clear the smoke we saw on sunday out,,oops,it came over us like a tsunami on monday!

  4. Biggest fire in the world right now is in Siberia. First time in recorded history smoke is over the North Pole. I suppose these posters would say environmentalists and our forest service are responsible. It is amazing to me how people’s world view is shaped by what they want to believe, facts be damned.

  5. typical willamette natioal forest fire.The governors of the western states told biden 2 weeks ago. that the federal firefighters CULTURE has to change the wait and see attitude doesn’t cut it.this is what you’re seeing on this fire.that stated back in july

      1. little man take your ass back to the hell hole you came from BOY.I have what you wish you had 4o areas east of town.Love it when you californians get all butt hurt.

Leave a Reply

Skip to content