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Good news on the fire and smoke

Aided by favorable conditions, fire crews are making significant progress against the stubborn Milepost 97 fire. That’s good news, although back-burns necessary to stop the fire’s spread may inevitably lead to more smoky days. Hats off to the nearly 1,500 firefighters working the fire with help from 13 helicopters and two air tankers.

It’s also good news that contingency plans put in place after last year’s fire season have allowed theater and musical performances to go on without interruption, moving to inside venues when necessary.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival moved outdoor shows from the Allen Elizabethan Theatre to Ashland High School’s Mountain Avenue Theatre, and the festival’s popular Green Shows are being live-streamed rather than performed outdoors while the smoke lingers.

The Britt Classical Festival, meanwhile, moved Sunday and Tuesday concerts indoors, but was planning to hold its Friday evening performance on the hill at the Britt Pavilion, thanks to improved air quality. Sunday’s concert location was still, pardon the expression, up in the air.

Having to move outdoor events inside is not ideal, of course. But contingency plans have allowed those shifts to take place smoothly, with less confusion than last year. And ensuring that the show goes on, even if it must be indoors, is better than canceling performances altogether — better for audiences and better for the festivals’ bottom lines.

Local tourism officials are urging the public to engage with elected representatives at the state, local and federal levels to address the issues of wildfire and the smoke that results. That’s good advice.

Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley joined with other Western senators from both parties on Thursday in urging that savings from the Wildfire Disaster Account be reinvested with the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to be spent on wildfire prevention efforts including thinning, forest management and maintenance. The money, totaling $650 million for the next fiscal year, is the result of legislation that ended the practice of “fire borrowing,” which forced the Forest Service and BLM to raid their fire prevention budgets to pay fire suppression costs.

That reinvestment is critical, and the Senate Subcommittee on the Interior should heed their colleagues.

Meanwhile, the smoke was less bothersome here Thursday than earlier in the week, with the air quality listed as moderate. With any luck, the region may have made it through this fire with minimal inconvenience.

A heads up to all: The Milepost 97 fire was human-caused. The cause of the Panther Gulch fire, approaching full containment and holding at 70 acres as of Thursday morning thanks to state and local fire crews, was still under investigation. We wouldn’t bet against a human cause for that one, either.

Please be careful out there, and don’t do anything stupid.

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