Heavy Smoke Causing Health Concerns

, Written by Christine Pitawanich, Posted: Tue, July 30 2013 at 5:45 PM, Updated: Tue, July 30 2013 at 9:45 PM

The smoky air in Southern Oregon is thick and it's starting to take a toll.

Multiple residents in the Grants Pass, Illinois Valley and Cave Junction area say they haven't seen smoke like this in years. Many of them said the smoke from the recent fires is even worse than what the Biscuit Fire produced back in 2002.

In Grants Pass, taking a breath of fresh air is near impossible for residents.

"This is the worst I've ever seen it," said Patty Pilkenton who lives near Merlin.

All the smoke is moving in and staying put. It's a result of the multiple fires burning in the region.

Down the Redwood Highway, in Cave Junction at the Siskiyou Community Health Center -- where air quality keeps fluctuating between hazardous and unhealthy...

"We've definitely seen an increase due to the smoke," said Karen Stewart-Sinnwell at the Siskiyou Community Health Center.

She said patients are phoning in with concerns and asking for masks.

"They're wanting protection from the smoke. I've noticed a lot of people walking around town with different types of masks on," said Stewart-Sinnwell.

Back in Grants Pass, staff at Asante Three Rivers Medical Center said they haven't seen too many people come in yet, but they are preparing as best as they can just in case.

"Anything you can use to protect your airways from these irritants that are floating around is going to benefit you," said Mike Latusick, a Respiratory Therapist at Asante Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass.

"Even if you have a bandana, a wet wash cloth...the surgical masks or painters masks you can get from the local hardware stores that'll help."

Medical staff said the best mask is the N95 that health professionals use. It can be found at some hardware stores. However, the downside is they're so thick, they can make breathing a bit more difficult.

Doctors said the best way to keep healthy is to stay indoors and limit physical activity.

It's a piece of advice Patty Pilkenton is taking to heart.

While emergency rooms in our area haven't seen too many people coming in with smoke related illnesses...that could change soon if the fires keep burning and the smoke sticks around.

For updated air quality reports visit the DEQ website at: http://www.deq.state.or.us/aqi/index.aspx

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About the Author

Christine Pitawanich

Christine Pitawanich was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. In 2010, she received a master's degree in Broadcast Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in New York.

Christine also has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from the University of Washington.

Before joining the NBC5 News team, she had the opportunity to file reports from Washington D.C. for WFFT FOX Ft. Wayne News in Indiana. Christine has also interned at KOMO-TV in Seattle.

Christine loves to ski, try new food and have fun in the outdoors.

Catch Christine anchoring weekdays on NBC 5 News at 5pm.

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