Mass. Task Force 1 Completes Mission to Oregon for Wildfire Response

The 25-member team from Massachusetts will return from Portland, Oregon on Sunday.

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Massachusetts Task Force 1 has completed their mission to help the residents of Oregon as wildfires continue to rage across the region.

Massachusetts FEMA-based Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1 spent nearly a week conducting damage assessments and searching for missing people.

At least 35 people have died so far and a record one billion acres were torched in just one week. There are growing fears in Oregon that the ash and rubble are concealing mass casualties as dozens of people remain unaccounted for.

The 25-member team received their activation orders on September 14 to report to Portland, Oregon. The team traveled via commercial airline to the state and are expected to return to Massachusetts on Sunday.

People in Oregon, Washington and parts of California have been struggling under acrid yellowish-green smog — the worst, most unhealthy air on the planet according to some measurements. It seeped into homes and businesses, sneaked into cars through air conditioning vents and caused the closure of iconic locations such as Powell’s Books and the Oregon Zoo in Portland, the state's biggest city.

Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality extended an air quality alert to Thursday after it was to initially expire on Monday. The air was so thick that on Monday Alaska Airlines announced it was suspending service to Portland and Spokane, Washington, until Tuesday afternoon. Hazy, smoky skies fouled Washington state and experts said some parts of California might not see relief until next month.

In Oregon, places like the Oregon Convention Center in downtown Portland are being used as a smoke advisory shelter where people in need of healthy air quality can go.

State officials say they are collecting data to see how these fires compare to those in the past and the effects, not only on people's health but also the environment.

Tyler Kranz, a meteorologist at Portland’s National Weather Service office, said for the smoke to disperse Oregon will need strong enough winds blowing from the ocean towards land — but there needs to be a “perfect balance” of wind so that it disperses smoke but doesn't further ignite fires.

Meanwhile, the smoky air is traveling as far away as the East Coast.

The smoke created a hazy appearance in skies over parts of Virginia and New York City, the National Weather Service said. New England is also expected to see the brownish haze Tuesday.

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