Residents must take precautions to protect their lungs from the Rogue Valley's smoke-filled skies, because the air pollution might be here for awhile, county health officials say.




Smoke from wildfires in Northern California has clouded the skies since the weekend. While smoke levels can fluctuate dramatically from hour to hour, peak levels on Sunday reached five times the Environmental Protection Agency's health standard, said Gary Stevens, program manager for Jackson County Environmental Health.




"We all need to be really conscious," said Stevens. "Everyone needs to reduce their exposure to this smoke. And particularly those who are sensitive to smoke, like children, the elderly, those with underlying heart and lung conditions."




Unhealthy smoke levels are expected to continue throughout the week or longer. Regional wildfire experts told local health officials the fires continue to burn out of control, Stevens said.




"They are telling us there are 84 fires that they don't even have crews on. People need to be prepared for a long-term experience," Stevens said, adding long-term exposure can cause a cumulative negative health effect.




"We are already getting anecdotal reports of asthma and lots of sore throats," he said.




Sensitive individuals should stay indoors and avoid exertion, health officials said. They also recommend that healthy individuals avoid heavy exertion outside, especially during hours of high smoke concentration when visibility is limited.




"People need to avoid jogging or other strenuous forms of exercise when the air quality is so compromised," Stevens said.




A shift in the wind patterns would help blow the smoke out of our valley and help health officials and the public breathe easier, he said.




A smoke-clearing southerly flow is predicted for later this week, said Mike O'Brien, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Medford office.




But the respite will be short-lived. Until the wildfires are out, the smoke will return as pressure builds and the winds change again, O'Brien said.




For updated air quality reports, go to /airindex.