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'It gets depressing'

Melissa Cantwell's two young sons received scooters from their grandma, but they haven't been able to try them out because of persistent smoke in the Rogue Valley.

"They've been dying to go back outside. They've been miserable. They've been grouchy," Cantwell said. "It's frustrating. We feel like we can't go outside."

Although some people are living with fear and anxiety as Southern Oregon wildfires threaten their homes, especially in the Applegate and Illinois River valleys, virtually every Oregonian is contending with the impacts of smoke.

Health officials have warned about the physical dangers of smoke, but weeks of bad outdoor air are also taking a mental toll.

Summer skies have turned murky, putting the Rogue Valley in a constant twilight state.

"It looks like it's the same time of day all day long," Cantwell said. "It gets depressing."

Jovita Castillo said she moved to Oregon from Texas and — under normal conditions — enjoys a range of outdoor activities, from soccer to hiking.

"It definitely does change your mood," Castillo said of the smoke, which hit hazardous levels in Medford and Ashland on Wednesday. "Being indoors is not my thing, especially when I work in an office all day."

People with health problems have been especially hard-hit by the smoke.

"I have pretty severe asthma," said Riki Rosenthal as she wore a particulate-capturing mask in downtown Medford. "Before, I was able to go off some of my controller medications. With this starting up, I had to go back on steroids."

Rosenthal said she has felt nauseous because of the smoke.

Her young daughter has a new pogo stick, but has been able to hop only around their apartment living room.

"She loves being outdoors. She's an athlete. People tend to be grumpier. There's no sunlight and you can't tell what time it is," Rosenthal said. "It's frustrating."

Sheri Clarey, a volunteer at the American Cancer Society thrift shop in downtown Medford, said the smoke has worsened her husband's health problems.

"He's trapped in the bedroom because of his emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He's been trapped for six weeks," she said. "It's awful."

Kid Time Children's Museum is seeing an influx of kids and adults who are looking for ways to stay active while keeping indoors.

Yvonne Egendoerfer, who brought her kids to the museum this week, said they have made day trips to high-elevation locations like Hyatt Lake and Lake of the Woods, where the smoke is sometimes thinner. Other outings have included ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum in Ashland and the Wildlife Safari animal park between Winston and Roseburg. Visitors to Wildlife Safari stay in their vehicles while driving through the park.

"It was super fun," her 8-year-old daughter, Talia, said of Wildlife Safari. "If it's really smoky, you can drive through and see the bears and lions."

The kids have also kept busy making snakes out of beads and a creating a multitude of origami animals thanks to YouTube tutorials.

At Art du Jour Gallery, artist Kay Myer said she has had a hard time feeling creative lately.

"I paint every day and the things that inspire me are nature and the freshness of nature, so it's been hard to find inspiration with all this smoke. My painting reflects my mood, too. This smoke gives you a gray, dull, uninspired feeling," she said. "I took to the kitchen for comfort food and made a fresh blackberry pie. The news is so dismal about when we're going to see relief."

Firefighters have said it will take a heavy dousing of fall rain to extinguish the wildfires ringing the Rogue Valley. They include the 176,770-acre Chetco Bar fire west of Cave Junction, the 28,670-acre Miller Complex in the Applegate Valley and California and the 52,255-acre High Cascades Complex that includes fires near Crater Lake and Union Creek.

With smoke engulfing almost the whole west side of the state, plus Central Oregon, the Columbia Gorge and Northern California, relief is hours of driving away.

Myer said she and her husband, a photographer, are trying to stay upbeat and ride out the unhealthy-to-hazardous air conditions.

"I try to remain thankful that I have a roof over my head and air conditioning. My house hasn't burned down. We're trying to be thankful and positive and hope that all of this will be over soon," she said. "I try to paint bright things. Now maybe I should paint rain and umbrellas."

Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Melissa Cantwell, of Central Point, says heavy smoke in downtown Medford makes her eyes burn. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]