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Air quality worsens, progress made on fires

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneJay Miller tees off while Chris Wood tries to track the shot Monday in the smoky air at Centennial Golf Club in Medford.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued air quality advisories Wednesday afternoon for large sections of the state, including large parts of the Rogue Valley, as smoke continues to billow.

In Southern Oregon, Jackson, Josephine, Curry, Klamath, Lake and Douglas counties were under an advisory caused by smoke from wildfires burning in Northern California and Southern Oregon, according to the DEQ’s Oregon Smoke information blog.

Early Wednesday afternoon, air quality monitors in the Medford and Ashland areas showed air quality index numbers in the 160s, a level considered “unhealthy.” Medford’s test station in the area of West Jackson and Welch streets recorded unhealthy air quality levels from midnight Wednesday and into the afternoon Wednesday.

A midnight reading at the Ashland Fire & Rescue station was 149, one point away from the threshold for “unhealthy” air quality, and it gradually worsened until reaching the high 160s Wednesday morning.

In addition to the six Southern Oregon counties, the advisory impacted the Willamette Valley, Central Oregon, northeastern Oregon and the Central Columbia River Gorge.

DEQ expected the air quality advisory to last until Friday morning.

Fire crews continued to make progress on the 79 wildfires burning in Southern Oregon since Thursday, according to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and the Oregon Department of Forestry.

As of Wednesday evening, the largest fire was the Round Top fire located 10 miles northwest of Shady Cove, which was holding at 23 acres, according to an ODF Southwest Oregon news release. The wildfire was fully lined and plumbed, and night crews were expected to move inward from the perimeter extinguishing smoke and smoldering areas.

The Buck Rock fire located about five miles north of Trail was 17 acres and fully lined. On Tuesday night, crews improved the fire’s containment level from 10% to 80%, and mop-up efforts were slated to continue through the night Wednesday, according to ODF. Safety concerns such as hazardous trees and steep terrain are challenges that slow down progress.

The Bear Camp fire burning in the Siskiyou Mountain Ranger district was down to 4.5 acres, according to the Forest Service. The footprint decreased in size by half an acre, and crews were nearing full containment.

Forest Service crews are also working the Deadhorse fire about 15 miles north of Lost Creek Lake, with two engine crews working to mop up and secure fire lines.

ODF and the RRSNF were also assisting fires in the Umpqua National Forest and in Douglas County.

An online fire map issued by the U.S. Forest Service showed that much of the smoke in our region stemmed from dozens of fires in Northern California, including the McFarland fire burning near Wildwood, the Monument fire burning near Big Bar, and the River Complex and Antelope fires burning in Siskiyou County.