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Shifting winds give smoke-weary Rogue Valley a reprieve

Ongoing wildfires across the region have resulted in the poorest air quality for Medford in at least almost two decades, according to National Weather Service data, but shifting winds could residents a reprieve.

On Sunday, the city had experienced 17 days where the daily air quality was ranked as “unhealthy” or worse, which is top of the heap compared to 18 years of annual readings. Officials pulled that data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s outdoor air quality data tool, and AirNow Tech, an air quality data website. The runner up was 2017, which notched 15 days (though it had more days with air quality that was “very unhealthy” or worse than 2018), while 2015 had 12 and 2013 had nine, rounding out the top four years.

“We will likely add to our total number of unhealthy days this season because it is only early August,” a post on the Weather Service’s Facebook page reads.

But a change in wind patterns is providing some thinning in Rogue Valley smoke levels for at least a few days, according to the National Weather Service. Air quality had improved to "good" by 7 p.m. Sunday and continues at that level this morning.

Until this week, a majority of the afternoon winds came from the west-northwest, meaning most of the smoke that enveloped Medford and other nearby cities came from the Klondike and Taylor Creek fires near Grants Pass, and the Garner fire complex. That is forecast to shift this week, Brett Lutz said, with more winds coming from the north-northwest during the afternoon hours, and winds from the northeast-east during the nighttime.

That means smoke will still be present — primarily flowing in from the Miles, Columbus, Snow Shoe and Rount Top fires — but it won’t be as intense.

“Generally we’re expecting that while we’ll still have smoke, it’s not going to be as severe,” Lutz said, adding this is expected to continue until at least late Tuesday or Wednesday. Some rain showers and thunderstorms are expected to move into parts of the region from California mid-week, though weather officials are still sorting out how widespread they will be and how much moisture they will offer up.

Here is a rundown on containment of area fires, as of Sunday afternoon:

Miles, Columbus, Snow Shoe and Round Top fires

Crews say conditions on the Miles, Columbus, Snow Shoe and Round Top fires — located northeast of Trail — say conditions have improved. The Miles fire, which had grown to 30,617 acres Sunday, was considered 5 percent contained.

“The clearer air has allowed the team to utilize air resources more heavily,” a news release reads.

The Columbus fire had grown to 9,428 acres and was 10 percent contained. The Snow Shoe and Round Top fires, 3,816 and 154 acres, respectively, were both closing on full containment Sunday, with Snow Shoe at 93 percent containment and Round Top at 90 percent containment.

Klondike and Taylor Creek fires

A wind shift stirred up an increase in fire activity on the Klondike and Taylor Creek fires, located west of Grants Pass.

The Klondike fire grew to 51,120 acres, and is listed at 15 percent containment, according to a news release. The Taylor Creek fire was 46,300 acres and 45 percent contained.

A primary objective for crews working on the Klondike fire is to reduce its southward spread, with crews focusing on protection of communities southeast of the Illinois River after flames extended across it.

Garner complex

The Garner fire complex, made up of several fires in Jackson and Josephine counties, has not budged from its 8,886-acre size for several days, and is 87 percent contained, according to a news release.

Hendrix fire

The Hendrix fire, southwest of Ashland, remains at 1,082 acres, and is considered 80 percent contained.

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com or at 541-776-4468.

{ }Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell