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Air quality dips in the Rogue Valley as Southern Oregon fires grow

A firefighter conducts burnout operations at the Jack fire Friday near Dry Creek . Inciweb photo.
Most of the smoke coming into the Medford area and Interstate 5 corridor is coming from the Jack Fire, which was estimated Saturday at 9,333 acres — 14.58 square miles — and is 10% contained. Inciweb photo.

Air quality may continue dips into “moderate” as winds carry plumes of smoke from wildfires into Southern Oregon in the mornings — before shifting afternoon winds carry the smoke out.

Medford’s air quality dropped from “good” at 11 a.m. to “moderate” at noon Saturday, according to an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality air quality monitor station located at Welch and West Jackson streets.

In Shady Cove, air quality fared worse, with air quality monitors reaching “moderate” starting at 8 a.m. Saturday, and “unhealthy for sensitive groups” from at least 10 a.m. through the early afternoon.

National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Spilde said Saturday that the change in air quality stems from winds carrying smoke from the growing fires in Southern Oregon — primarily the Jack fire burning east of Roseburg in Douglas County.

Saturday’s smoke was predicted to be short lived thanks to shifting wind patterns, but the winds could bring more smoke overnight.

“Once the winds kick in, there’s some clearer air to the north that’ll help disperse some of the smoke that we’re seeing now and conditions should improve,” Spilde said.

Winds from the north and northeast blow the smoke into the Rogue Valley at night, and north and northwesterly winds were expected to clear the air in the afternoons.

Spilde said that locals should prepare for similar wind conditions over the next three or four days, but added that the amount of winds that the smoke they carry depends on fire activity — which is more difficult for meteorologists to predict.

“It could happen daily, it just depends on how much smoke the fire outputs,” Spilde said.

Most of the smoke coming into the Medford area and Interstate 5 corridor is coming from the Jack fire, which according to a joint release from the Northwest Incident Management Team 9 and the Oregon State Fire Marshal Blue Incident Management Team press release Saturday was estimated at 9,333 acres — 14.58 square miles — and is 10% contained.

Some 661 personnel including four aircraft, five dozers and 39 engines are working the Jack Fire and working to secure fire lines primarily in the area of the Dry Creek community to protect the 243 structures threatened by the fire.

Spilde described “a pretty good smoke plume” from the Jack fire overnight and this morning, but said as of shortly after 1 p.m. that the fire was giving off less smoke, although it was giving off some heat.

Fire officials predict “near normal temperatures in the 80s today,” according to fire officials.

To bolster fire lines and protect threatened structures, firefighters are burning vegetation along the fire lines in the Dry Creek area, according to fire officials. Oregon State Fire Marshal crews are also in the area assessing ways to build defensible space in the Boulder Flats area.

Forest service campgrounds are under mandatory evacuations in the Jack fire area, which include Apple Creek, Horseshoe Bend and Eagle Rock.

Meanwhile, a major fire burning in Klamath County nearly doubled in size overnight.

The Bootleg fire burning in Klamath County in the Fremont-Winema National Forest and on private property grew to 76,897 acres — more than 120 square miles — and is 0% contained — according to a Saturday afternoon joint release from agencies that included the Northwest Incident Management Team, the U.S. Forest Service, the Oregon Department of Forestry, the Oregon State Fire marshal and Klamath County Emergency management.

The fire that started Tuesday north of the towns of Sprague River and Beatty was at roughly 61 square miles Friday.

The 580 personnel battling the fire include three hotshot crews, five Type II initial attack crews, three Type II crews, 10 helicopters, five dozers, 51 engines and 15 water tenders, according to fire officials.

Crews were expected to focus on their efforts on structural triage, creating defensible space around structures and securing perimeters as the fire moves east towards the area of a high voltage powerline corridor, according to the release.

Officials issued new evacuation orders on Saturday afternoon. North of the town of Beatty, a Level 3 “go” evacuation order was issued for the Sycan Estates area and at the forest boundary at Ivory Pines Road. The order calls for an immediate evacuation due to “imminent danger” due to the wildfire.

People in the town of Sprague River should also leave immediately, according to emergency officials.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.