Inland DN gets a bit hazy, but Crescent City in the clear
When Gasquet residents stepped out their front doors Friday morning, many could smell a slight hint of smoke. A shift of winds hung a haze over inland areas of Del Norte County, bringing the more than 60 square miles of wildfires in Southern Oregon close to home.
Cooler temperatures and higher humidity Thursday slowed the blazes, which have charred about 40,000 acres of forest land. Nearly 4,500 firefighters are on the scene and more are on the way as the relatively mild U.S. wildfire season has freed firefighters and equipment to come to the Pacific Northwest.
Compared to Grants Pass, where the air quality was deemed unhealthy Friday, Del Norte County is still a refuge from the smoke for folks in the Rogue River Valley.
“They are just miserable up there,” said Mike Poole, a ranger at Redwood National and State Parks, who often answers phones at the Crescent City visitor center. The majority of phone calls in the past few days have been inquiries about how much smoke is here, he said. “I’m just telling them to come to Crescent City and get out of the smoke.”
There were more visitors to the Smith River National Recreation Area this week as well. Some Cave Junction, Ore., residents drove to Panther Flat campground outside Gasquet just to be able to walk their dogs out of the smoke.
Del Norte’s status as a smoke-free refuge might diminish through the weekend due to more north and northeast winds inland, according to the National Weather Service in Eureka. But northwest winds coming off the Pacific Ocean could keep Crescent City relatively clear.
“Interior valleys like Gasquet will definitely have more smoke,” said Ryan Aylward, a meteorologist in the NWS Eureka office.
With the continuously developing fire news, state regulators are urging the public to pay close attention to air quality alerts.
“Try to stay apprised of what is going on around you,” said Rick Martin, Air Pollution Control Officer of North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District. “If you’re aware of what’s going on, you can protect yourself.”
The air quality district installed a particulate monitor last week at the Smith River NRA visitor center to closely monitor how the nearby fires are affecting Gasquet. There is a permanent air quality monitor in Crescent City, but “that monitor is right on the coast and we needed something inland,” Martin said.
“The main reason we did it is that Gasquet is a good location for particulates to travel down to Northern California from Oregon,” Martin said.
So far, there has not been anything of concern detected, “but we are keeping an eye on it,” Martin said.
Although Del Norte’s currently in the clear, air quality alerts were issued Friday for unhealthy air conditions in several areas surrounding Del Norte: Hoopa, Karuk Reservation, Willow Creek, Orleans, Forks of Salmon and Burnt Ranch.
More fires in the mid-Klamath region were detected Wednesday night, but the Dance Fire that triggered an evacuation of Orleans and burned three buildings is fully contained.
The Butler Fire, 10 miles east of Somes Bar and estimated at 500 acres, started Wednesday, closing Forks of Salmon Road at Oak Bottom Campground and the Salmon River from Wooley Creek to Nordheimer Campground, which is also closed. The fire is at zero containment.
The Salmon River Complex fires that started near Forks of Salmon on Wednesday night grew to 1,500 acres with more than 400 firefighters on scene and less than five percent of the fire contained.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley will visit Southwest Oregon today to get a firsthand look at the wildfires that have threatened homes and made the air unhealthy to breathe. The trip comes after the death of a firefighter who was hit by a falling treetop Thursday while removing fuels near a small wildfire in Central Oregon.
The Bureau of Land Management portion of the Wild Section of the Rogue River is still closed from Grave Creek to Mule Creek due to extreme fire conditions and public health and safety issues. The Recreation section of the Wild and Scenic Rogue River is currently open to rafters. However, the Grave Creek takeout is closed and law enforcement officials will not allow traffic into Grave Creek. Rafters floating on this section of the river should use the Argo, Almeda, or Rand river exits.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.