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Unhealthy air will sock in valley this week

Triple-digit temperature expected this week could intensify fires burning around the Rogue Valley and will continue to dump unhealthy air into the area.

"You have fires to the west of you, to the north of you, to the east and to the south," said Jim Gersbach, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry.

With temperatures expected to hit 100 or more this week, humidity drops and vegetation dries out, leading to the potential for fires to expand, Gersbach said.

High temperatures can also bring erratic winds, which makes it tough for firefighters to control their lines.

Even though the valley has seen almost a month of smoke, Gersbach said the peak season for fires is August and September.

"With these weather conditions and hot weather, we will see some continued growth of some of these fires," he said.

On Friday, a Level 1 warning was sent to many residents along portions of the Upper Applegate Road to get ready for possible evacuation from the expanding Miller Complex fires. So far the blazes, 17 miles east of Cave Junction, have affected 14,066 acres. A Level 1 warning alerts residents to get ready to evacuate.

Similar warnings, including evacuation alerts, have been sent to residents near the Chetco Bar Fire that has edged toward Brookings on the coast.

"The smoke has definitely rolled back in," Dawn Strickmeyer, tasting room ambassador at Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden in the Applegate, said on Sunday.

The tasting room still got plenty of visitors Sunday, but the patio serving area was off limits because of the smoke, Strickmeyer said.

"The building is 99-percent air tight, so it's nice in here," she said.

The only good news for area residents is the smoke might bring down temperatures somewhat.

"Smoke blocks a lot of the solar radiation," said Michelle Cohen, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Medford.

On Sunday, the high was 96, but forecasters predicted 102.

Air quality was considered unhealthy on Sunday, Cohen said.

Rainfall often brings an abrupt end to the fire season, but Cohen said it's too difficult to predict when the valley will get its first downpour.

"I don't think we're done with the smoke for at least the next week," she said.

The Chetco Bar Fire, the largest fire in the state at 107,993 acres, is expected to get gusty winds on Monday, which could lead to fire spreading through the tops of trees, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The winds will likely push more smoke into the valley.

Firefighters estimate containment of the Chetco fire, which is five miles northeast of Brookings, on Oct. 15.

The High Cascades Complex of 17 fires in Crater Lake National Park and the High Cascades Ranger District also continues to burn. 

As of Saturday, the biggest fires in the complex included the 7,113-acre Blanket fire seven miles east of Prospect; the 5,288-acre Spruce Lake fire on the west side of Crater Lake National Park; the 77-acre Sherwood fire six miles west of Diamond Lake and the 1,232-acre Broken Lookout fire six miles west of the junction of Highways 62 and 230.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Unhealthy air will sock in valley this week