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Wind shifts should rid Rogue Valley of smoke

Shifting wind patterns later today should give Rogue Valley residents a reprieve from the eye-watering, throat-scratching smoke blowing in and out of here from wildfires to the south and east, authorities say.

The National Weather Service forecasts that northwest winds expected to bring cooler weekend temperatures also will push smoke plumes back toward fires in Klamath County and Siskiyou County in California.

"That's going to be the saving grace, if you're in our area," weather service meteorologist Mike Stavish says. "That should keep our area pretty safe and clean."

The forecast is bad news for Northern California and southeast Oregon, where significant smoke is expected as far as Modoc County in Oregon, according to the weather service.

"The smoke is moving hundreds of miles," Stavish says. "It's a really big deal."

Residents from Phoenix south past Ashland awoke this morning to a thick taste of smoke mainly from the lightning-ignited July Complex collection of fires burning nearly 43,000 acres of Klamath National Forest lands in Siskiyou County.

The three fires that make up the July Complex have been burning for nearly a month, often throwing huge plumes of smoke into the sky and over the Siskiyou Mountains, hitting southern Jackson County harder than the northern confines, Stavish says.

But other winds coming from the east are pushing in smoke from the another set of lightning-sparked fires burning in more than 2,000 acres of the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area, almost all of which is in Klamath County.

A new mass of air will descend upon the valley later today, with low-elevation winds scouring the air even as high-elevation winds push smoke well above the valley floor, Stavish says.

"Even though we are going to see smoke in the sky, it's not going to be impacting our air quality much, if at all," Stavish says. "That plume isn't going to be as visible tomorrow as it is today."

Those in the smoke's path are urged to stay indoors, especially younger or older people who tend to be more susceptible to poor air-quality, Klamath Forest spokeswoman Erica Hupp says.

Also, Hupp warns about prolonged outdoor activities, such as hiking, in heavy smoke areas.

The fires have triggered closures of several trails, including portions of the Pacific Crest Trail in Siskiyou County as well as north of Highway 140 in Southern Oregon.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.