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The smoke that returned this week from area forest fires is expected to ease this weekend, and there's a chance of rain Saturday.

Pray for rain ... and more rain

We could see a little relief from the choking wildfire smoke over the weekend — but our neighbors farther north won’t be so lucky.

The plume of wildfire smoke that canceled Friday football games and threatened outdoor Shakespeare performances is expected to move north over the weekend, according to National Weather Service senior forecaster Jay Stockton; however, the Medford and Ashland area is “still going to be hazy.”

“You should see improvement in the morning,” Stockton said of the smoke. “However, that means Douglas County’s going to be seeing a lot more of it.”

A storm slated to move in from the coast over the weekend could offer some relief, according to Stockton. The clouds are expected to bring a dose of much-needed rain and highs dropping down to the 70s; however, a dose of potentially wildfire-sparking lightning is also in the cards.

Stockton said the Medford area has a 20 percent chance of rain Saturday afternoon, with the probability rising to 60 percent by evening. Thunderstorms are possible Saturday night.

The storm system is expected to blow over by the end of Sunday, with the chance of rain at 20 percent, but Stockton said temperatures next week won’t return to the 90s. Monday’s high is forecast at 77 degrees in Medford, though by next Friday temperatures could creep into the 80s.

“It’s going to stay in the middle to upper 70s through the middle of next week,” Stockton said.

Predicting how long the smoke will last after the weekend is a tougher task for forecasters, according to Stockton. They can look at wind patterns, but “a lot depends on the fire behavior itself.”

Numerous high school football games were abruptly rescheduled Friday afternoon because of smoke conditions, but it was not clear Friday afternoon whether Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s performance of “The Book of Will” Friday night at the Allen Elizabethan Theatre would go on.

On Friday afternoon, air quality in Medford, Ashland and Shady Cove was at “unhealthy” levels.

A smoke team at the festival decides whether to stage scheduled outdoor performances in the two hours before 8 p.m. showtime, according to OSF spokeswoman Julie Cortez. They review conditions and make their decision by 7 p.m.

“They keep watching until showtime, and even during showtime in some cases,” Cortez said.

On Thursday night, Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s smoke team approved their performance of “Romeo & Juliet” on the outdoor stage, and Cortez expressed hope the pattern would continue.

Much of the smoke stems from overnight growth to the largely contained, but still-burning wildfires in Josephine County and Northern California.

The Natchez fire burning near Happy Camp, California, grew more active since Thursday when a layer of smoke lifted above the fire, breathing new life into the fire, and exhaling more smoke into the Medford area. The fire is at 37,193 acres and 84 percent contained, according to Inciweb reports Friday.

Overnight Thursday, the Klondike fire burning near Selma grew 4,300 acres within its containment lines — increasing the wildfire complex acreage roughly 2.7 percent to 163,724 acres.

The fire is roughly 72 percent contained and didn’t threaten any lines, but the fire grew along the northwestern flank of the fire near Agness, according to a midday update issued by Dan Trapanese with Northwest Incident Management Team 13. Another growth area was at the south end of the fire within containment lines near the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

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