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Smoke may come from Tiller fire

The smoke Medford and Ashland area residents have been inhaling recently is likely from the Tiller Complex fires.

That's the conclusion of a study of nephelometers ' devices that measure air particulates by the amount of light passing through air samples ' maintained by the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Other than local folks around the Biscuit fire in places like Cave Junction and Grants Pass, it looks like the smoke we're getting is coming from the Tiller complex fires, said John Becker, the air quality manager based in the DEQ's Medford office.

The Tiller Complex fires in Douglas County have burned about 56,900 acres but are now about 45 percent contained.

However, that complex is expected to be joined by the 6,000-acre Apple fire burning in the Umpqua National Forest about 20 miles east of Glide. That fire has forced highway and campground closures along the popular fly-fishing section of the North Umpqua River.

The roughly 450,000-acre Biscuit fire is burning largely in the Siskiyou National Forest. It is now 40 percent contained, although firefighters have yet to complete about 90 miles of fire line.

The Biscuit fire is the largest in the state since the 988,000-acre Silverton fire of 1865, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.

But fire officials say they are optimistic they are gaining on the fire started by a lightning storm in mid-July. Fire suppression costs are now at about &

36;80 million.

I would say we are at a turning point, said fire spokeswoman Rochelle Desser. We have completed the initial mission in Zone 1. Now it's just a matter of reinforcing it, testing it, and finally saying it is fully contained on this side.

As firefighters gain on the fires, the smoke will diminish, Becker said.

Even though the fires have burned a large number of acres, the burning is only on the perimeter, he said. The area burning is actually decreasing.

The exception is when firefighters burn out areas between an established fire line and the main body of the fire, he said.

Nephelometers are placed around the region, including the Illinois Valley, Grants Pass, Provolt, Ruch, Medford, Shady Cove and Klamath Falls.

However, those devices aren't used to give the official reading of particulates, Becker said. Those measurements are taken by more sophisticated technology using filters and are read about two weeks after the fact, he added.

The nephelometers give us an good instant reading on the smoke that is out there, Becker said.

The Air Quality Index for Monday reported Medford's average air quality for the day in the mid- to high end of the good range, with ozone rating a 37, particulates measuring a 36 and carbon monoxide registering at 27 on a scale that tops out at 300.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at