The Red Cross has handed out about 20,000 respirator masks so far in Southern Oregon communities plagued by smoke from wildfires burning near the Rogue River.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality continues to measure unhealthy levels of smoke pollution in communities including Grants Pass, Shady Cove, and Cave Junction. (You can track the air quality in your community on this interactive DEQ map).
Medford asthma specialist Dr. Kevin Parks says he’s used to seeing an uptick in patients during fire season in the Rogue Valley, but this year it’s much worse.
“The amount of smoke we have in the valley now, when you can’t see a mile, even healthy people will often start to have symptoms. And in asthmatics, it will often shows up as shortness of breath, chest tightness, their medication needs will increase,” he said.
Parks says people experiencing symptoms should stay inside and avoid physical activity, or wear a N-95 respirator mask (a model designed to filter at least 95 percent of fine particles in the air) if they cannot avoid working outdoors. Parks has put his own daily run on hold while the smoke is bad, instead heading to Central Oregon to get exercise on the weekend.
Relief could be on the way for people trapped inside; the National Weather Service is forecasting thunderstorms and rain this week in Southwest Oregon. The storms should develop across the region Tuesday through Thursday, bringing rain and unstable air that could clear out the smoke.
Meteorologists say the thunderstorms could spark new wildfires, but it’s less likely given the forecast of rain.
More than 5,000 firefighters are working to contain five large blazes in Southwest Oregon:
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