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Coming face-to-face with smoke

As wildfire residue fills the valley, residents try to help filter their breathing with masks

Sales of paint masks are on the rise as Medford and surrounding areas get the brunt of smoke from two Southern Oregon fires.

We've had several people coming in and buying them for the whole family, said Mark Brouillard, who works at Miller Paint Co. in Medford.

Scott Horton, a contractor sales coordinator for Rodda Paints in Medford, also noted a slight increase in mask sales.

A lady I dealt with (who) had asthma came and said she was buying it for the smoke, he said.

Both said 3M Co.'s model 8511, a paper mask with a valve, seems to be popular, as are paper filters with a charcoal layer.

Justin Wade, outside sales representative for Miller, said he wasn't sure how effective either would be against smoke.

Unless you know what's in the smoke, you can't say if it will work, he said. We cannot sell a (mask)and tell them it will do that.

Smoke isn't on a list of substances the masks will filter, Wade said.

It will definitely help remove particles out of the air, he said.

Deborah Elliott, spokeswoman for Providence Medford Medical Center, said the hospital couldn't recommend any mask for people with respiratory problems.

A mask that is efficient and could filter both the large particles and the small particles could inhibit your ability to breathe, she said.

However, people who don't have respiratory problems could wear masks that filter even the tiniest particles if they don't want to breathe smoke, she said.

She recommended that people with respiratory problems stay home and limit travel.

If you're experiencing any difficulty breathing, call your family physician, she said.

Smoky conditions are expected to continue indefinitely as fires rage in Southern Oregon.

We're in a poor location when you get the smoke from the Biscuit fire because of the westerly winds, and then we're directly south of the Timbered Rock fire, said Keenan Smith, natural resource specialist with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

Medford and Shady Cove, which both have air quality monitoring stations, continued to show unhealthy readings Wednesday.

In fact, readings were worse than in Grants Pass or the Illinois Valley, where the fires are burning.

After 10 a.m. Thursday, Smith said, readings at both stations surpassed the federal limit of 150 micrograms of particulate per cubic meter of air. After steadily rising, both stations' readings jumped to 300 by — p.m.

Smith said masks might afford some protection from the smoke, but he recommended contacting a physician before using them.

Even air quality officials weren't able to escape the effects of the smoke, he said.

We can feel it in our throats and our sinuses, he said.

Scott Horton demonstrates a painter's mask at Rodda paints in Medford. Such masks may not completely protect wearers from the effects of fire smoke. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell