Officials urge caution as smoke risks health

The heavy layer of smoke pressing down on the Rogue Valley has sent a handful of people to local hospitals with lung ailments and others to local hardware stores seeking protective face masks.

Air quality in the Medford area once again moved into the unhealthy range Tuesday afternoon, while in Grants Pass the air quality was labeled as "hazardous."

Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford has seen people suffering chronic lung conditions admitted to the emergency room with shortness of breath, said hospital spokesman Grant Walker.

"What we know is that the effects from smoke accumulate over time, so we are expecting more people to come in with problems related to the smoke," Walker said. "If you have a chronic lung problem, it would be best not to exert yourself or even be outdoors in these conditions."

Meanwhile, face masks are becoming popular items at stores.

Becky Serianz, manager of the Hubbard's Hardware on South Pacific Highway, said the masks are moving off the shelves.

"We've seen an uptick in that particular item," Serianz said. "We still have them available but they are trickling out the door."

The air-quality index value at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Medford was listed at 174, while Shady Cove reported 166. Grants Pass was listed at 340. Anything higher than 101 is considered unhealthy for children, the elderly and people with heart and lung conditions, according to the Department of Environmental Quality's website. Anything above 150 is considered unhealthy for everyone.

The Medford and Shady Cove readings were in the unhealthy range for everyone, while the Grants Pass reading was rated as hazardous.

By 6 p.m., even Crater Lake, high in the Cascade Mountains, was rated as unhealthy, with a reading of 156.

Marsha McCabe, spokeswoman for Crater Lake National Park, said the smoke at the park comes and goes throughout the day.

"You can still see the lake, but it's through a layer of smoke," McCabe said.

The smoke at Crater Lake hadn't reached the levels that seeped in during the 2002 Biscuit Fire.

"During the Biscuit fire, we saw the smoke actually pour over the edge and into the caldera," McCabe said.

The Jackson County Department of Health and Human Services advises against exercising outdoors while the smoke remains in the valley.

Jackson Baures, the county's public health division manager, said that residents should not base their plans solely on the DEQ air-quality index. The reading carries a lag time that might not tell the whole story.

"You want to know the air conditions at the moment you are outdoors," Baures said.

Baures advises using the current visibility to judge the air quality in your area.

If visibility drops below eight miles due to smoke, it is considered to be in the unhealthy category for sensitive groups such as the elderly and children. Below 21/2; miles is considered unhealthy for everyone and below one mile very unhealthy. Less than a half-mile visibility warrants a "hazardous" label from the DEQ.

Baures said to judge the distance, look for a known landmark for which you have a good idea of the distance from your location.

"Everyone has a landmark that they know the mileage away it is," Baures said. "You can use the visibility index for a real-time look at the air quality."

You can view the visibility index chart at To review the most recent air quality levels for various locations, see

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or

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