Dozens of fires ravaging forests from the Washington border south to the California border left the region in a haze of smoke and forced the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist to evacuate the Bridal Veil Center near Corbett, at the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge. A number of parishioners in southern Oregon also have evacuated their homes and some schools are altering their schedules to mitigate the effects of poor air quality.

The main blaze in the Portland area — the Eagle Creek wildfire along the gorge — was pushed 12 miles westward Monday night by strong winds, growing to 10,000 acres as of Tuesday morning.

Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist Therese Gutting, head of Franciscan Montessori Earth School and St. Francis Academy, said a police officer showed up at the convent last night and “asked us to please leave at 10 p.m.” The sisters were able to gather their personal effects and secure the chapel before departing.

“In the afternoon we thought it was going to be fine,” said Sister Therese. “But then it went from a Level 1 (evacuation order) to Level 2 and then Level 3.”

The 10 women religious who live in the convent spent Monday night in hotels but now will be staying with parishioners from St. Henry Parish in Gresham and families from the Montessori school.

Some members of St. Henry Parish, however, have themselves been evacuated. At the thought of the fire moving farther west, St. Henry administrative assistant Terri Heitzman said, “I pray it doesn’t.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Franciscan sisters didn’t know when they’d be returning home but were grateful that their convent, thus far, is safe.

In the 1990s, the Franciscan sisters also were evacuated due to a fire, recalled Sister Therese, but that was “much worse as the fire was right above the house.”

She said the sisters are asking their parent community and others “to please wrap their prayers around our beautiful home and the animals we had to leave behind.”

A couple of cats and several chickens, goats and ducks remain on the Bridal Veil property.

“But we are very loved and cared for,” Sister Therese said. “At this point we are safe, and we pray that everyone in the Gorge and anyone affected by the fire will be safe and as well cared for as we are.”

In Roseburg, St. Joseph parishioner Aurora Hunter said air quality was awful Tuesday. “We’re told we should wear masks and stay inside as much as possible because the air quality is so unhealthy,” she said.

“It’s terrible,” said Tony Lopez, administrative assistant at Sacred Heart Parish in Medford. “I think we’re surrounded by fires.”

His counterpart in Ashland, Carolina Senestraro at Our Lady of the Mountain Parish, said Ashland was in the same predicament, with fires to the north, east, south and west.

Area children aren’t being allowed out for recess and Senestraro’s daughter’s high school sent out an email saying that if any student were suffering from respiratory ailments they should not come in to school.

Tuesday schools in the Archdiocese of Portland, including Franciscan Montessori Earth School and St. Francis Academy, were following Portland Public School guidelines and closing early.

In Ashland and Medford it’s been a month of smoke. “We wake up to ashes on the cars every morning,” Senestraro said.

Cancelling a show at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival’s outdoor venue can cost the company up to $65,000, but there have been three canceled this summer, one halfway through the show and one when the audience already was seated.

Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Brookings, near the growing Chetco Bar Fire, has not yet been evacuated but many of its parishioners have been.

The parish is just a few miles from the fire, said Carol Richardson, parish secretary. Those who have evacuated have gone to shelters in Gold Beach. And some of the faithful cannot leave their homes because of the unhealthy air quality outside.

Until things change or the city is evacuated, Our Lady Star of the Sea is operating as usual. But forecasted rain could be a blessing.

“We appreciate everybody’s prayers that our parish will remain safe and that the air quality will clear up,” says Richardson.

Camp Howard, a large Catholic summer camp and site of outdoor school, is well south of the Eagle Creek fire for now.

Sister Krista von Borstel, executive director of CYO/Camp Howard, says the camp is not yet in the path of the fire, which is moving west.

But staff are keeping an eye out and have an evacuation plan in place that would entail removing staff, vehicles and supplies.

Many people have asked about the camp’s welfare.

“Thank you for your care and concern,” Sister Krista wrote in an email to supporters. “It means a great deal to us and we realize the camp is a treasure of the children and those who have been campers and staff in the past.”

The Oregon Department of Forestry over a four-year period removed flammable material under trees at the camp and created a 100-foot firebreak above the Bull Run.

Camp staff have maintained green spaces around buildings and can hook up a water gun to soak the area.

On Sept. 5, the Department of Defense approved the deployment of active duty soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington to fight the flames that had at that point burned 47 square miles in the Umpqua National Forest, about 50 miles east of Roseburg. Some 200 soldiers were to join the 1,000 firefighters who already were there.

For updates on the fires in Oregon, go to the public version of RAPTOR, the real-time assessment and planning tool for the state from the Oregon Office of Emergency Management. It’s under “Emergency Operations” at the office’s website,

All told, fires are laying waste to 1.4 million acres in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah Washington and Wyoming, with ash falling in cities from Seattle to Los Angeles.

Kristen Hannum, Ed Langlois, Katie Scott and Sarah Wolf contributed to this story.