Columbia River Gorge fire cancels local recess, sports throughout West Linn-Wilsonville School District

SPOKESMAN PHOTO: CLARA HOWELL - The boys and girls cross country team, along with other sport teams at WHS, practice indoors due to poor air quality.You don't normally see a high school cross country team running drills through the hallways and on the stairs. But for Wilsonville High School and other schools in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District last week, they had to get creative.

It's no secret the air quality has been poor due to the Eagle Creek fire ripping through the Columbia River Gorge. The Air Quality Index in the West Linn-Wilsonville area reached the red zone — an unhealthy level where anyone can experience health effects — the first week of September, and caused great health concern for those participating in physical exertion.

At WHS, sports games were canceled and practices were moved indoors. SPOKESMAN PHOTO: CLARA HOWELL - Junior Kayla Bolnick, who competes in her hand chair for cross country, rides around in the hallways of WHS. 

"It led to the need to be creative. (The sports teams) modified well and I think we (got) some entertaining stories out of it, and (turned) it into a positive," said Dennis Burke, assistant principal and athletic and activities director at WHS. "In spring we deal with rain and last winter we dealt with snow and ice. This is a similar approach."

The school district put out Facebook posts and ensured people that it was monitoring the air quality and keeping children indoors. Recess was moved inside and outdoor activities were cancelled.  

"We've been proactive," Burke said. "When you have activities that have exertion, you have to be more careful. I credit the Oregon Schools Activities Association, they've done a great job sending out information and resources to help schools."

But as of Sept. 7, the Air Quality Index reached a moderate level, meaning the air quality is acceptable for outside exertion. As clouds started to break through a bit of blue sky, children at Sunset Primary in West Linn were climbing on outdoor structures and swinging. Sport games and practices also resumed as normal in several West Linn-Wilsonville schools.

"I've never spent so much time looking at Air Quality

Index," said Burke, with a laugh.

Wilsonville Spokesman Reporter Clara Howell can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-636-1281 ext: 112.

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