Smoke expected to linger

The day after officials declared the Siskiyou fire fully contained, smoke from fires to the north continued to shroud Ashland, prompting air quality advisories.

The smoke, blown into the Rogue Valley on Thursday, is expected to remain in Ashland through Sunday, a National Weather Service meteorologist said this morning.

"It looks pretty socked in," said meteorologist Marc Spilde. "Right now it's fairly bad because we're underneath an inversion and there's really not a whole lot of wind to mix things around and get it moving."

On Thursday — hours before the Siskiyou fire was declared fully contained at 6 p.m. — the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued an air quality advisory due to the smoke, directing residents to avoid exercising outside and to stay inside as much as possible.

"That's the best thing to do," said John Becker, air quality manager at the DEQ's Medford office. "The fine particulate in that air, it gets into your lungs and, in many cases, your body cannot expel it. It's like being a smoker."

Health officials are advising people with asthma and other breathing or lung conditions to be especially careful outdoors through this weekend.

As of this morning, Ashland schools were not doing anything differently due to the smoke — sports matches had not been canceled — but students were being allowed to stay inside during recess or skip physical education classes, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said. "Right now we're not curtailing anything, but if any child needs to stay inside, they can," she said.

As of this morning, the air quality level in Ashland was "moderate," a step below "good" and above "unhealthy for sensitive groups," Becker said.

Depending on the direction of winds today and the progress of the forest fires, the air quality could grow worse today, he said.

Shady Cove, for example, went from the "moderate" level to the "unhealthy for everyone" level on Thursday.

"It really depends on what kind of weather conditions we see and what the smoke does later today," he said.

It's possible afternoon winds today could scatter the smoke away from the Valley — but if the winds are from the north, they could bring even more smoke to Ashland, Spilde said.

"Hopefully we can get the winds in here and mix it up a bit, but I'm not confident of that right now," he said.

The smoke is coming from several large fires burning in the Umpqua and Willamette national forests.

The Boze and Rainbow Creek fires in rugged terrain near Toketee in Douglas County had burned a combined 10,792 acres by Thursday, while farther north in Lane County, the Tumblebug complex had burned 9,228 acres.

A lightning storm that hit Sept. 12 and 13 sparked those fires, and strong winds this week fanned them to rapid growth. Fire officials predicted they might not be contained until mid-October.

On Wednesday evening, the wind shifted, pushing the smoke south over the Cascades at Diamond Lake. It wafted into the Klamath Basin, eventually slipping over the Siskiyous and into the southern part of Jackson County.

As the temperatures rose Thursday, more smoke rolled in from the north over the Umpqua Divide, bringing smoke from the same set of fires into the Valley from multiple directions.

Meteorologists expect a storm front to arrive late Monday, which should shift the weather pattern, releasing the smoke stuck under the inversion layer now, Spilde said.

"That pattern in itself should help kick up the winds and scour out the atmosphere and get some of that smoke out of here," he said.

"And until then, stay indoors as much as possible."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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