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Country Crossings braces for smoke, heat

The Country Crossings Music Festival is going to be smokin’ hot.

With daily temperatures nearing 100 degrees and unhealthy levels of smoke blanketing the region, festival staff are taking steps to ensure safety for all attendees, according to Anne Hankins, president of Willamette Country Concerts LLC, which puts on the annual music festival that draws 20,000 people.

“We are excited for the festival and we are closely monitoring the air-quality situation,” she said. “We’ve done these events for a long time, so we have things in place to make sure people can come and be OK.”

Kicking off at noon Thursday, the Country Crossings Music Festival at the Expo features a mix of up-and-coming and local performers, as well as headliners Cole Swindell, Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley and Eric Church.

This is the second year the festival is being held at The Expo in Central Point, and four eventful days are scheduled despite the ongoing run of smoky air.

Air quality readings in Jackson County ranged from “unhealthy for sensitive groups” to “unhealthy” Wednesday afternoon, and National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Spilde said he doesn’t expect an improvement anytime soon.

“The weather pattern we are in is not conducive for getting the smoke out of the valley,” he said. “With smoke coming from multiple directions from the different fires, we get afternoon winds that bring the smoke from the fires right over us.”

Spilde said that pattern is expected to remain throughout Country Crossings.

“It doesn’t look like there will be much change in afternoon wind patterns that will bring improvement in air quality,” he said. “I’d expect reports of unhealthy and very unhealthy air quality, with maybe moderate at times, but mostly unhealthy or worse during the festival.”

Hankins said the festival has an on-site mobile hospital staffed with two doctors and numerous other medical staff to care for festivalgoers suffering from heat, smoke or other ailments. An additional 10 to 15 medical people will wander throughout the grounds at all times, and festival staff will be monitoring air quality levels every hour.

She said the mobile hospital will have “plenty” of N-95 protective masks that will be given out freely to festivalgoers, and about six misting barrels have been set up around the venue for people to cool off.

“We’ll also be displaying messages on a JumboTron encouraging people to stay hydrated, to be cautious of how they are feeling and to visit the mobile hospital if needed,” Hankins said.

The festival’s website says each attendee can bring in two 20-ounce, factory-sealed water bottles. Water bottles will be sold for $2 each at the festival.

“Staying hydrated is important, especially in this heat and heavy smoke,” Spilde said. “And for people drinking alcohol, it’s particularly necessary to drink more water.”

Temperatures in Central Point are expected to reach highs around 100 degrees each day of the festival, according to Spilde. Thursday temperatures are expected to spike to 101 degrees; Friday is expected to reach a high of 98 degrees; Saturday is expected to hit 99 degrees; and Sunday is expected to reach 98 degrees.

“Aside from the smoke, the weather pattern that we are in is just hot,” he said. “Staying under 100 degrees some days can be called cooling off, but it’s hot out there no matter which way you slice it.”

Hankins said that the Boxcar Stage, also known as the Seven Feathers Event Center, is the best indoor, air-conditioned spot for people to take a break from the smoke and sun and enjoy the festival indoors.

Country Crossings has partnered with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office to create a messaging system that people can opt into to receive weather and air-quality updates, and all updates will be shared on the festival’s social media sites, Hankins said.

Jackson County Public Health Division Manager Jackson Baures said county staff have been working with Country Crossings staff to ensure that all necessary steps are taken for safety during the festival.

“We’re really utilizing the JumboTron messaging system to send out reminders for people throughout the festival to take care of themselves,” he said. “We’re ensuring people will know where and how to get medical treatment if they need it, reminding them to have water and to take breaks.”

Baures said there will be information sheets about the N-95 protective masks to assist festivalgoers in determining whether they have adequate protective gear from the smoke, and to encourage people to wear the masks correctly.

“Particularly for people with heart or respiratory issues, we want to make sure people take every level of caution,” he said. “This can be a very fun event as long as people are careful.”

Since air quality levels will be checked every hour, Hankins said staff will be prepared to take the necessary steps if levels get so severe that events need to be canceled. She declined to say what level of air quality would trigger a cancellation.

Hankins said there has been some discussion on social media from people wanting to return tickets or cancel their festival plans due to air quality, but “there are so many die-hard country fans out here, we’re not expecting a noticeable drop in attendance.”

Tickets — which range from $100 for single-day general admission to $499 for front-row, single-day VIP admission — are nonrefundable and cannot be exchanged.

Hankins said that no performers have expressed any hesitation about performing in the smoky conditions, and that actions will be taken to care for their safety, as well.

“Public safety is our number one concern, always,” Hankins said. “Whether it’s air quality, thunder and lightning or anything else, safety is our number one concern, and we’re taking every measure to keep that in place.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporting intern Morgan Theophil at mtheophil@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4485. Follow her on Twitter@morgan_theophil.

Mail Tribune / Jamie LuschWeather forecasts call for smoky skies and near triple-digit heat during the Country Crossings Music Festival.