It’s official: The worst air in the country at the moment is in Jackson and Klamath counties, according to the air quality monitoring website www.airnow.gov.
On Monday morning, an air quality monitoring station in Shady Cove had dropped to “hazardous.” Stations in Ashland, Medford and Klamath Falls were all listed at “very unhealthy,” according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Air Quality Index. Stations in the Applegate and Grants Pass were one level up at “unhealthy,” while Cave Junction was scraping by at “moderate.”
The levels are determined by the amount of fine particulate matter, or PM 2.5, in the air. The microscopic particles can cause a host of health problems and can exacerbate respiratory conditions such as asthma.
On the Airnow website, only one other area in the nation had unhealthy air, and that was in south central Idaho.
The smoke-choked conditions have forced the cancellation of the Central Point School District’s free summer lunch events today and Tuesday at Pfaff and Don Jones parks, according to a news release. The Crater High School and Central Point Elementary free meal sites “will remain open and run business as usual,” the release says.
Jackson County health officials recommend area residents limit outdoor activity and to wear specialized “particulate respirator” masks if they must go outside. The masks should have the word “NIOSH” printed on them, along with either “N95” or “P100.”
The masks must fit snugly to an individual’s face to actually work.
“It is impossible to get a good seal on individuals with facial hair,” a bulletin on the Jackson County Health & Human Services website reads. “It is important to make sure the respirator fits properly and that air does not leak around the sides.”
Health officials note that while the masks can limit exposure to PM 2.5 particles, they can also make breathing more difficult and lead to increased breathing and heart rates. Anyone wearing respirators who have heart or respiratory diseases should consult with their doctor.
Most of the smoke is coming from the Garner fire complex that has been raging mostly in Josephine County, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Jay Stockton.
“That might be the single largest contributor at this time,” Stockton said.
On Monday, the complex — which includes the Taylor, Ditch, Graves, and Pleasant Creek fires — had burned through 11,564 acres, according to the state Fire Marshal’s Office. It is 14 percent contained. Current resources on the fire include 2,162 personnel, 26 aircraft, 100 engines, 25 dozers, and 38 water tenders, according to a news release.
Level 2 and 3 evacuation orders — “be set” and “go” — are in effect for Pleasant Creek Road, according to the Incident Information System website. An area north of Grave Creek Road’s intersection with Ditch Creek Road is also under a Level 3 “go” evacuation, as is West Picket Road. Picket Road and all cross roads are at a Level 2.
Another smoky fire is the Natchez fire, burning southwest of Cave Junction just over the border in Northern California. That fire has burned more than 1,900 acres and is 0 percent contained.
The last in a trilogy of key smoke producers is the Klondike fire, burning in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. It has grown to 5,281 acres and is also 0 percent contained.
For a map of Oregon fires, click here.