Wind shift could bring smoke back to inland DN by Friday
Crescent City has become a refuge for Southern Oregonians escaping persistent smoke from several wildfires spread across tens of thousands of acres and attracting thousands of firefighters.
Westerly winds have kept the smoke from overspreading Del Norte County, which should continue through today. But a shift to northeasterly winds could bring more smoke to inland areas of the North Coast starting Friday, according to Matt Kidwell, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Eureka.
Redwood National and State Parks officials said a vast majority of calls to the visitor center in Crescent City this week have regarded two types of inquiries: people wanting to escape the smoke by seeking redwood country and people already planning a trip to redwood parks wondering if they should cancel.
The smoke has been reported as far south as Sacramento, but winds kept it away from the coast — at least for now.
The majority of smoke in Northern California is from the Labrador and the Douglas Complex wildfires in Southern Oregon, and the Dance fire in Orleans, according to the North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District, which advised people to monitor air quality alerts and pay close to attention to respiratory health.
The alerts can be heard by calling the District’s 24-hour Air Quality Advisory Information hotline at 1-866-BURN-DAY. They can also be accessed on the district’s website at www.ncuaqmd.org.
“You have all of these fires in the same region combining to diminish the air quality,” said Emily Veale, public information officer, Joint Information Center.
The closest active fire to Del Norte County is the lighting-started Labrador Fire, 13 miles northwest of Cave Junction near the Illinois River community of Oak Flat and spilling into the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.
Wednesday evening, the fire had reached 1,750 acres with 425 firefighters assigned to it. Heavy smoke from other fires in Oregon have prevented the use of aircraft-assisted firefighting. Although structure protection is nearly complete for Oak Flat, the fire is at zero containment, and Oak Flat remains at an “advisory evacuation” status.
Illinois River Road has been closed to the public to allow access for fire traffic.
The largest of the Southern Oregon fires, the lighting-caused Douglas Complex in southern Douglas County east of I-5, has grown to 25,396 acres, with almost 1,400 firefighters assigned. Only 5 percent of the fire has been contained.
Multiple outbreaks of wildfire have scorched 55 square miles in southwest Oregon since Friday, and Gov. John Kitzhaber has declared a state of emergency in two counties. More than 100 people have been handed evacuation notices, and the entire region is dealing with hazy skies.
The Wild and Scenic section of the Rogue River has been closed due to the fires, affecting rafting companies summer business.
“August is our Christmas month,” said Brad Niva, owner of Rogue Wilderness Adventures in Merlin. “It’s the month that we make our living; we pay off our bills. It’s the biggest month of our year — to have this happen is devastating.”
The smoke led the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to cancel a Wednesday night performance and has prompted government warnings to limit outdoor activities.
The Dance Fire, a wildfire that grew to 650 acres, triggered the evacuation of Orleans and burned three buildings on Tuesday, became 60 percent contained by Wednesday and all evacuations were lifted.
Firefighters continued to struggle with building fire lines in the steep terrain east of Camp Creek Road. The fire did not have any major runs Wednesday and was mostly smoldering and creeping.
The Karuk Tribe, which has committed resources for the Orleans fire, has transitioned its Evacuation Center to a Clean Air Center for affected residents at its Department of Natural Resources in Orleans.
The Karuk Tribe is offering free housing vouchers for those needing to get out of the smoke. Call the Karuk Tribal Housing Office in Happy Camp at (530) 493-1414 for more information.
Information about the wildfires can be found at inciweb.org or by calling the Joint Information Center at (541) 471-6620.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.