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CLEAN AIR: Time to speak up

Jackson County Commissioners want to hear how back-to-back summers of wildfires and smoke have impacted residents and businesses.

Commissioners will hold a public hearing starting at 5 p.m. and running as late as 9 p.m. Tuesday at the North Medford High School commons, 1900 N. Keene Way Drive.

“I think a lot of folks have felt that they haven’t been heard and they haven’t been able to express themselves,” said Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer.

He said Jackson County will gather up the comments and send them to policymakers and other elected officials, including Oregon legislators and the state’s congressional delegation.

People can speak about everything from health and economic impacts to their thoughts on firefighting policies and forest management, Dyer said.

Members of the public will likely be given a few minutes each to speak. Elected representatives who come will be allowed to speak for five minutes because they represent large groups of people, Dyer said.

Past county hearings on hot-button issues — such as the expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument by the federal government — have attracted hundreds of residents.

“One of the things we’re really going to be focusing on is getting the proper resources and the proper policies to make sure that we have full suppression and there’s not unnecessary smoke and fire that affects our region,” Dyer said.

He said commissioners have been hearing about a variety of impacts from pervasive smoke, from people rushed to emergency rooms to local businesses suffering economically and even shutting down altogether.

This year, most of the area’s wildfires were started by a lightning storm July 15 that sent down thousands of bolts and triggered at least 145 fires. The largest wildfire — the Klondike fire that burned mainly in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area west of Grants Pass — surpassed 175,000 acres and wasn’t declared fully contained until Nov. 28.

Rural neighborhoods faced repeated evacuation alerts due to numerous wildfires.

Dyer said he hopes the public can help identify ways to avoid a repeat of the past two summers, when Southern Oregon was smothered in wildfire smoke for months.

“I just hope people show up, and I hope people get behind not just airing these concerns, but implementing them. That’s going to be the major way that this actually has an impact and that we can mitigate these issues,” he said.

Those who cannot attend the public hearing are invited to submit comments by 5 p.m. Tuesday. Comments can be emailed to boc-cao_admin@jacksoncounty.org or mailed to Board of Commissioners, 10 S. Oakdale Drive, Medford, OR 97501.

People who attend the meeting are also welcome to hand in written comments during the hearing.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

The Taylor Creek fire burning west of Grants Pass last summer sends up thick smoke.