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Medford air quality improves, but alert still in effect

The U.S. Forest Service’s Regional Air Quality Program released this map of air quality map for Oregon Friday morning showing air quality measured in the "good“ category, but a few locations still experiencing unhealthy levels of smoke. Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest photo.

After more than a day and a half of “unhealthy” smoke levels, Southern Oregon’s air quality improved to moderate Thursday and Friday, but officials expect smoke levels to keep fluctuating throughout the weekend.

At 11 a.m. Friday, Medford showed an air quality index of 79 or “moderate,” but for about 12 hours overnight local air quality improved to “good” levels, according to the U.S. Interagency Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program’s Friday outlook for the South Oregon Cascades region.

At 9 p.m. Thursday, the Medford air quality monitor recorded a reading of 21, the best AQI reading of the month.

Behind the improved air quality were northwest winds that pushed the smoke south and east, prompting the forecasts of clear skies for the Rogue Valley.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality expects smoke levels to fluctuate through at least the weekend. Most of the smoke is coming from fires burning in California.

Friday’s air quality in Medford is expected to range from “good” to “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” and Saturday’s AQI forecast will largely hover around the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” level.

Firefighters continued Friday to mop up the fires in Southern Oregon that were still burning after a wave of lightning storms that began last week. Forty-six fires that started in the region since July 29 were considered “contained,” “controlled“ or ”out.“

The largest of the contained fires are the Maple Dell fire burning 10 acres in the Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District and the Bear Camp fire burning 4.5 acres in the Wild Rivers Ranger District.

Other fires burning in the Siskiyou Mountains, High Cascades and Gold Beach ranger districts were from a tenth to less than a third of an acre.

The Round Top fire burning 10 miles northwest of Shady Cove was holding at 23 acres, and the Buck Rock fire burning five miles north of Trail was holding at 17 acres as of Friday evening, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry Southwest Oregon District.

The Round Top and Buck Rock fires are the last two remaining active fires stemming from last weekend’s lightning storms, according to the Friday ODF Southwest Oregon release. The storms sparked 65 fires in five days starting July 30.

Crews continued their progress Friday, with crews reaching 150 feet into the perimeter of the Round Top fire, and crews mopping up past the 200-foot mark into the Buck Rock fire. Because of the steady progress and fire lines holding strong, ODF does not intend to issue further updates on the two fires unless conditions change.