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Maybe a brief break from the gray

It's not a guarantee, but the Rogue Valley could see a brief respite from smoke-polluted air over the next day or two.

Winds from the northwest are forecast to crank up to about 10 to 15 mph Wednesday and Thursday afternoon and evening. That could mean some clearing of lower-level smoke, according to the National Weather Service. Higher elevation smoke likely will stay put.

"It’s not set in stone, but there is hope maybe we could mix out some smoke these next two afternoons," said meteorologist Marc Spilde. "Since we have fires all around us, it depends on not just the winds at the surface, but the winds aloft."

Another wind shift is forecast for Friday, which could bring more smoke from complexes burning in eastern Douglas County.

Air quality across southwest Oregon has suffered from numerous fires burning in multiple counties. Medford and Ashland have not had "good" air quality since Aug. 13, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Air Quality Index. Air quality for both cities has dipped down to at least "unhealthy for sensitive groups" over the last several days. On Wednesday, air quality from Cave Junction to Ashland was listed as "unhealthy."

Jackson County Public Health continues to urge area residents to limit exposure to the smoke by staying indoors and keeping doors and windows closed. It's recommended that people working outdoors wear a specialized particulate respirator to protect their lungs. Those masks should have the word "NIOSH" on them, and either the "N95" OR "P100" designation on it. Making sure the mask has a proper fit and seal is important.

"If it does not fit properly, the respirator will provide little if any protection, and may offer the wearer a false sense of protection," a public health news release said.


Much of the smoke is coming from the Chetco Bar fire burning in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The flames from that blaze crept within five miles of Brookings Wednesday. The fire has burned nearly 100,000 acres and has been dubbed the top priority fire in the U.S. by the National Interagency Fire Center.

As of today, the blaze has destroyed seven structures, according to fire public information officer Jose Acosta.

Fire growth was minimal Tuesday night, and crews hope to capitalize on the cooler weather and higher humidity by bolstering containment lines on the south and southwestern flanks. The fire had no containment Wednesday.

"(Crews) are working really hard the next two days while the conditions are favorable," Acosta said.

Nearly 1,100 personnel from at least five states — Oregon, California, Washington, Arizona and New Mexico — are fighting it, officials said.

A local task force made up of firefighters from Medford Fire-Rescue, Jackson County Fire District No. 3, Jackson County Fire District No. 5, and Ashland Fire & Rescue have also been at the front lines of the fire since Sunday. The group works nights and focuses primarily on structural protection and keeping roadways clear for fire apparatus.

Many area residents living along Cape Ferrello Road and Carpenterville Road north to Pistol River, and east and west off Carpenterville Road, were allowed to return to their homes Tuesday, following a Sunday evacuation. They remain under a Level 2 — “get set” — evacuation advisory, officials said.

Smoke is also billowing in from the nearby Miller Complex, made up of six lightning-sparked fires in the Applegate Valley ranging in size from less than 100 acres to more than 3,000 acres, with crews estimating 11 percent containment, according to Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest officials.

Crews also continue to work on the High Cascades Complex, composed primarily of two fires burning near Crater Lake National Park. The 5,889-acre Blanket Creek fire is 76 percent contained, while the 5,360-acre Blanket Creek fire is at 61 percent containment.

The fires in east Douglas County, called the North Umpqua Complex, include seven different fire areas that have burned nearly 12,000 acres south of the North Umpqua River near Horseshoe Bend, about 50 miles east of Roseburg.

— Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

A bicyclist rides with traffic through downtown Phoenix wearing a mask during a workout Wednesday morning. Air quality has dropped to hazardous levels across the Rogue Valley. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]