Shady Cove residents voice concerns about hazardous smoke conditions

SHADY COVE, Ore.– During a community meeting about the South Umpqua Complex Fire in Shady Cove, several residents raised questions of concern about the level of smoke and the lack of support in the form of masks for residents to use.

Over the past week, the Shady Cove area experienced several days of some of the worst smoke in not just the county but the whole country. According to an air resource adviser present at the meeting, the smoke levels reached “Hazardous,” the highest level possible for the air quality index. (For perspective, a “Good” day should have a number anywhere between 0 and 50. To hit “Hazardous” the air quality is between 301 and 500.)

As the air resource adviser explained it, Shady Cove area became a place where smoke from numerous fires was settling.

“You have a circulation of wind,” said Brent Wachter, air resource adviser. “The smoke comes in and then it’s caught in almost like a toilet bowl effect where it’s just staying in the same area.”

For residents, to have such dangerous levels of air quality is beyond concerning. Many were forced to stay indoors but as one resident explained it, they can’t stay inside forever.

“We still have things to do. We still have gardens, we have commutes, we have to go do stuff,” said resident Denise Clarke.

Clarke says she heard about organizations giving out free N95 masks for residents in Jackson and Josephine County. However, from her view, Jackson County means Medford.

While it may have the largest population, Clarke believes Shady Cove residents have been left out even though they’re the ones facing some of the worst smoke levels.

“We’re maybe 30, 45 minutes away,” she said. “Do I really want to drive that long, in the smoke, to go in and hope that they have a mask there. They really should be servicing the areas that need them also where the fires are.”

Clarke says that stores in Shady Cove do carry the N95 masks but that doesn’t mean the residents should be left out from receiving masks. She says some residents may not be have the budgets to continuously pay for masks.

“We are a part of Jackson County,” she said. “They just sometimes forget we’re way out here.”

Luckily one local organization announced during the community meeting that it’s approved plans to purchase a shipment of masks to hand out to residents.

“A lot of us live here locally and a lot of us know people that are having a hard time breathing,” said Ed Mayer.

Mayer is the chairman of the Jackson County Fire District 4 Support Group. He says the group agreed to set aside some of it’s funds, which will be used to purchase a shipment on Friday, in order to help the community.

As the meeting wrapped up late Thursday evening, community members walked outside and were greeted with some of the clearest skies they’ve seen in quite a while. Perhaps the masks might not be needed anymore.

Unfortunately, Wachter says those clear skies are only temporary with predictions showing “Unhealthy” levels for the upcoming weekend. But – and it’s a big but – there could be a glimmer of hope as well.

“There is a possible pattern change in the weather conditions for next week that might be able to move more smoke out,” said Wachter. “But at the same time those weather conditions could activate the fires.”

The U.S. Forest Service in partner with other agencies provided the community update at the Upper Rogue Community Center. In terms of the most recent updates, fire officials announced the South Umpqua Complex was 14 percent contained and at about 7,579 acres. Over 1,219 personnel were fighting the fires in the complex that include Snowshoe, Miles and Columbus.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office also announced at the meeting that evacuation notices around the Snowshoe Fire had been dropped from a Level 2 “Be Set” to a Level 1 “Be Ready.”

For more information, visit the South Umpqua Complex Inciweb.

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