Unhealthy air returns to the Rogue Valley

Air quality in Medford and Ashland has plummeted to unhealthy levels in the last 24 hours due to an east wind that's pushing smoke from the High Cascades Complex wildfires, the National Weather Service confirmed.

The Department of Environmental Quality hourly air-quality report showed Rogue Valley air was unhealthy for sensitive groups Saturday morning, while the 24-hour report categorized air quality in the area as unhealthy.

"It's likely that ... air quality will be bad through Sunday afternoon, even into the evening," said National Weather Service meteorologist Brad Schaaf. "Strong winds will help to lift it, but we are still waiting for the rain to completely get rid of the smoke."

Rain is expected next week, Schaaf said, and could come as early as Monday morning.

"It should be enough rain — light rain — for a good portion of next week," he said. "Maybe about half an inch."

Weather forecasters were having a hard time this morning using satellites to pinpoint the exact origin of the smoke in the Rogue Valley because of clouds, but Schaaf said it's most likely from the High Cascades Complex burning near Crater Lake.

A dry air mass and a dry cold front moving at higher elevations Friday helped wildfire activity increase, according to a press release from federal fire officials.

The High Cascades Complex has burned 61,508 acres since it was started by lightning Aug. 13 and is listed at 18 percent containment.

Residents, especially young children and the elderly, are encouraged to limit exposure to smoke by avoiding outdoor activities and closing doors and windows. Public Health officials urged residents to use specialized particulate respirators to protect their lungs during outdoor activities.

— Reach reporting intern Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@mailtribune.com.

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