Smoky haze from the California wildfires has settled over Medford and surrounding communities. Ashland residents are feeling the effects, as well.

Since Ashland is closer to the California border than Medford &

and thus closer to the fires burning in Northern California &

conventional wisdom would have some believe Ashland's air quality would be the same, if not worse, than Medford, roughly 13 miles north. But Ryan Sandler with the National Weather Service in Medford said, "We're lower in elevation than Ashland, so the smoke has a tendency to settle on top of us."

Jackson County Environmental Health released smoke levels for Southern Oregon, saying the levels fluctuate hourly, but peak levels were hit on Sunday, reaching five times the Environmental Protection Agency health standard.

Sandler said Medford has a sensor on the corner of Grant and Belmont Streets, and that air quality reached an "unhealthy" level Monday morning.

Ashland does not have a sensor that measures fine particulates.

Anna Kemmerer, an environmental specialist with the Department of Environmental Quality, said, "There really aren't air quality issues in Ashland because the smoke tends to settle in low-lying areas like Medford."

DEQ is issuing air quality alerts for people in Josephine and Jackson counties, urging people with respirator problems to stay indoors and avoid exertion.

Margueritte Hickman with Ashland Fire and Rescue said the department had only received a handful of calls from citizens concerned about the smoke over the weekend. She encouraged anyone with concerns to call the city's wildfire hotline at 552-2490.

A few people who were interviewed Monday said they weren't bothered by the smoky air and hadn't noticed any problems in Ashland.

Emily Hou, a high school violinist from the Bay area, traveled here Saturday with the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra.

She said, "When we were driving up here, we didn't even notice the smoke until we realized we couldn't see Mt. Shasta. And then I started coughing. But Ashland hasn't been too bad."

However, a group of people at Lithia Park on Monday said they were experiencing stinging eyes, including 11-year-old Tommy Hulick of Ashland.

"He's been rubbing them all day and his eyes are blood-red," said his grandfather Richard Easton, who was visiting from Indiana. "But that's not going to stop him from playing in a baseball tournament in Klamath Falls."

Pamela Goodwin is worried about her cat Bubby Kitty, who has allergies.

"He's an outdoor cat and isn't too happy about having to stay inside," said Goodwin.

Veterinarian Alice Sievers with Bear Creek Animal Clinic in Ashland said it's a real good idea to keep pets indoors with the heavy smoke in the air.

"Animals have the same risks humans do," she said. "So if you don't have to let your pets out &

don't."

Sandler said Southern Oregon could be seeing some improvement later this week, but anticipates that the smoke won't clear up until the weekend.

Reach reporter at 492-3456 ext. 226 or .