Though fire officials said today they’ve turned a corner on the Hendrix fire burning in the Applegate, it and other wildfires raging in every direction are expected to blanket the valley in smoke until at least next week.
Northerly winds are carrying out old wildfire smoke afternoons and evenings, then bringing new wildfire smoke up the mountain slopes and over terrain during the day, National Weather Service meteorologist Brett Lutz said. When visibility goes up, that means there’s less particulate matter in the air, he said.
“Each night it gets kind of stuck in the terrain,” Lutz said.
Air quality readings in Medford, Ashland and Provolt showed “very unhealthy” levels late Tuesday evening, with “unhealthy” levels in Shady Cove and Klamath Falls.
Early next week, shifting winds could possibly improve air quality to “moderate” levels, according to Lutz.
Meteorologist Brent Walker, a smoke forecaster working the Hendrix fire, said at a public meeting tonight at Ashland Middle School that a change in wind patterns predicted for the first week of August could provide relief, but could also activate more fires.
Jackson County’s public health director, Dr. Jim Shames, advised people to limit their exposure to the microscopic PM 2.5 particles in smoke by wearing only N95 certified masks and limiting exposure outdoors.
“They go down to the smallest airways,” Shames said of the particles. “You really need to be careful.”
Ashland Fire and Rescue Division Chief Chris Chambers, who said he sees people exercising outdoors in the smoke, also recommended people take precautions.
“We really have to start making adjustments to our lifestyle,” Chambers said.
Those looking for cleaner air will need to travel north of Gold Beach, Roseburg and portions of the northern Sacramento Valley, fire officials say.
Southern Oregon University is opening its indoor facilities as a reprieve from the smoke. Rooms in the SOU Stevenson Union will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays; the new Student Recreation Center’s indoor track will be open from 6 to 8 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; and the Hannon Library is open Sundays through Fridays.
Two Ruch area addresses evacuated last week because of the Hendrix fire have been reduced to the lowest evacuation level, as have 31 addresses nearby that had been on high alert.
Northwest Incident Management Team 12 commander Richy Herrod said the threat to nearby communities is “diminished almost completely.”
Matt Castle with the incident management team said the more than 600-person crew has the Hendrix fire 40 percent contained.
“We really are turning a corner today,” Castle said.
Reduced to Level 1 “Be Ready” evacuations Tuesday afternoon were the Wrangle Campground, at 23000 Little Applegate Road, and a property in the 16000 block of Wagner Creek Road — which had been at Level 3 since July 18 — along with 31 addresses in the Dog Fork community.
As of earlier Tuesday, the lightning-caused Hendrix fire had burned 1,060 acres with containment primarily focused around the northwest corner, according to the fire’s Inciweb page. There are 608 personnel working the fire, including four hot shot crews, 13 hand crews, five helicopters, 22 engines, five dozers, nine water tenders, two masticators and three skidgens.
As crews get a handle on the fire lines, Herrod said resources will shift to nearby wildfires, and another incident management team will handle mop-up.
Road closures near the southern portion in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest remain in effect, along with a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail closed near the Grouse Gap Shelter.
Forest Road 20 is open between Upper Applegate Road to Jackson Gap, but the forest road is closed from Jackson Gap East to the Ashland watershed.
In Josephine County, evacuations spurred by the Garner Complex burning near Grants Pass have been downgraded from Level 3 “Go” to Level 2 “Be Set” along Riverbanks Road to 989 Shan Creek Road; along with Riverbanks Road addresses to 333 Lumpy Creek Road.
The Garner Complex, declared a conflagration by Gov. Kate Brown, is at 17,369 acres with 15 percent contained according to a Tuesday afternoon update. Some 2,311 personnel are working to secure fire perimeters, and thick smoke may help on the fireline by reducing temperatures and increasing humidity, according to Inciweb.
The Sugar Pine complex, consisting of 19 fires west of Crater Lake National Park near Prospect, was at 1,077 acres with zero containment. A contingent of 792 people is working the fire, including 21 crews, 37 engines, 14 water tenders, three dozers, four masticators and three chippers, according to Tuesday morning Inciweb reports. Visibility has grounded three helicopters until smoke clears.
A community meeting on the Sugar Pine fire is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 25, at the Prospect library parking lot, 150 Mill Creek Drive.
The South Umpqua Complex was at 6,069 acres and 12 percent containment as of Tuesday morning. Some 49 addresses along the West Fork Trail Creek Road near Trail remained on Level 2 “Get Set” evacuation.
The Timber Crater 6 fire burning in a northeast corner of Crater Lake National Park was at 2,010 acres and 15 percent contained, according to Inciweb. The fire is not threatening any park attractions, and all areas in the national park remain open.