Warmer days will bring smoke back to the valley skies

Air quality from Medford to Cave Junction improved Tuesday, thanks to rain and cooler temperatures, but smoky skies likely are returning soon.

Data from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality shows measuring stations in Cave Junction, Provolt Seed Orchard, Grants Pass and Medford all reporting "good" air quality Tuesday morning, despite the lightning-sparked Big Windy Complex still burning nearby.

"This is the first day (that's happened) since the fires started" on July 26, said Byron Peterson, DEQ natural resources specialist.

Medford and Shady Cove downgraded to "moderate" air quality later in the day, but the other two stations held steady. Shady Cove was listed as having moderate air quality through the day, which means individuals with sensitive respiratory conditions such as asthma could be affected by the smoke.

Recent rainfall has helped to temper the smoke and slow the Big Windy Complex's growth. Fire officials said smoke likely will return as temperatures warm back up through the week, drying out ground fuels that can feed the flames.

The National Weather Service is calling for sunny skies and high temperatures ranging from the high 80s to low 90s in the Grants Pass area the rest of the week, with no reported precipitation.

"It's going to be more active," meteorologist Sven Nelaimischkies said of the smoke levels. "We are going to be seeing some increased smoke activity. It shouldn't be as bad as it was. We shouldn't be seeing visibility going down to half a mile."

Nelaimischkies added that a small chance of additional thunderstorms will start building over the weekend, but that most activity would likely be confined to the Cascades.

The Big Windy had burned 15,358 acres as of Tuesday afternoon, with 15 percent contained, fire officials reported. Officials have estimated they will have full containment by Sept. 1.

Crews at two other regional fire complexes continue their slow crawl toward full containment, too. The Douglas Complex, burning near Glendale, was at 50 percent containment Tuesday, with 45,483 acres burned. Crews at the Whiskey Complex near Tiller have contained 50 percent of the blaze, which had burned 11,260 acres Tuesday.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com.

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