Smoke-free skies forecast through Tuesday

·3 min read

Sep. 5—Southern Oregonians should get their hiking, walking and yard work done Monday during a window of less smoky air that's expected to last at least into Tuesday, before record-breaking temperatures send residents scurrying inside.

After several days of poor air quality in Southern Oregon, more favorable wind patterns Monday have smoke from the Weed-area Mill and Mountain fires blowing smoke toward Klamath Falls and away from the Medford-Ashland area, according to the National Weather Service.

That wind change dropped Medford's Air-Quality Index to the low 20s Monday morning, though forecasts called for it to creep into Moderate levels of 51 to 100 later Monday, the weather service reports.

"It'll just scrape by the Rogue Valley," weather service meteorologist Ken Sergeant said.

"These fires really aren't putting out the smoke that they have been, and that's a good thing," Sergeant said.

While smoke might not be a bane for Labor Day barbecuers, searing heat remains an issue Monday and will get even worse Tuesday.

Monday afternoon's forecast calls for the mercury to hit 98 degrees while Tuesday's forecast calls for Medford's thermometers to register 107 degrees, the weather service reports.

The record high for Sept. 6 in Medford is 104 degrees set in 1923, weather service data shows. The average temperature on that date in Medford is 87 degrees, records show.

"Oh, man, we'll be way above normal," Sergeant said.

Relatively smoke-free skies came after a torrent of days that saw unhealthy air-quality levels dating back to Tuesday, when the air was listed as "very unhealthy" in Grants Pass.

The region's smoke has been from a mix of the two Weed-area fires.

The Mill Fire so far has killed two people and destroyed 88 homes and 18 outbuildings since it ignited Friday. It was listed Monday at 4,263 acres and 40% contained, with full containment expected by Sept. 14, according to California wildfire officials.

That fire was not expected to spread, and some evacuation orders have been lifted, allowing residents to return to some homes in the Weed area.

The nearby Mountain Fire 9 miles southwest of the community of Gazelle was listed Monday at 10,338 acres and 10% contained. While it has threatened nearly 700 structures and caused the evacuation of 332 people, no structures have been destroyed and no civilian or firefighter injuries have been reported.

A new fire sparked near Weed Monday afternoon prompted evacuation orders as the City of Weed Fire Department responded to a 2-acre blaze in timber and brush. No injuries were reported, and the fire's spread had been stopped near the Weed Golf Club and Old Edgewood Road, according to the Cal Fire Siskiyou Unit Facebook page.

Oregon's Rum Creek Fire near Galice has not been producing as much smoke as the others, Sergeant said.

However, fire bosses there are worried atmospheric conditions and heat could test their fire lines and spur spot fires to jump lines meant to corral the blaze, according to Oregon Department of Forestry.

The Rum Creek Fire was listed Monday at just shy of 20,000 acres and about one-third contained.

Mark Freeman covers the environment and outdoors for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4470 or email him at mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com.