Smoke from wildfires continues to hang over sections of southwest Oregon, even though rain and high humidity helped firefighters make headway on the largest blaze in the area. The Douglas Complex fire was half contained at press time early in the week.
The group of three fires north of Glendale had burned 45,000 acres as of Monday. About 3,000 firefighters are still on the scene. No homes have burned so far.
After lightning ignited the forest in late July, heavy smoke made it perilous for some residents to emerge from their houses. Mass attendance was expected be down, as elderly people, children and those with breathing difficulties were advised to stay inside.
Lorie Jones, religious education director of All Souls Parish in Myrtle Creek, lives in Glendale, a half mile from the evacuation zone.
“We have been on pins and needles,” Jones said last week. At that point she could not see the trees 20 feet from her deck. Fear for her home and small Holy Family Church in Glendale have subsided.
But for a while, high winds made residents afraid the flames would reach Glendale, a town of less than 900 in hilly country north of Grants Pass.
One day, she and neighbors saw flames leaping in the nearby hills, but found later it was a controlled burn set to protect their town.
So far, smoke has caused the main problems for residents. It billows into houses when a door is opened. On occasion, Jones and neighbors smell chemicals in air and find it oppressive. They don’t know what it is — perhaps fire retardant — but they know they must go inside when it happens.
Neighbors have been caring for one another and many people have been praying, Jones says.
Animals are coming out of the mountains to escape the blazes. Deer and elk have been wandering in populated areas, with some animals being struck by cars.
Early in this month, weather patterns brought smoke into the Riddle and Myrtle Creek areas.
Grants Pass has been blanketed with smoke. “It is absolutely awful,” Natalie Scott, coordinator of youth and young adult ministry at St. Anne Parish, said Aug. 5. “You can’t even see the mountains. It smells like a giant ashtray down here.”
A constant haze has descended on Medford, the region’s largest city, well southeast of the fires. Many residents are going about with masks.
“The city is locked in with smoke,” says Fr. Ken Sampson, pastor of Sacred Heart in Medford. Bad air quality caused the parish’s receptionist to head home ill one day.
But mostly, Father Sampson says, Catholics are appreciative for firefighters and praying for the safety of crews.