Local fitness buffs are heading to gyms, the Rogue Valley Mall and other indoor spots to beat cabin fever that has set in during a smoke-filled summer.

Scott Fowler usually runs five to eight miles several times a week outside, but now he's turned to a treadmill at Superior Athletic Club in Medford to stay in shape.

"I don't want to damage my lungs," he said while running at a fast clip on the treadmill. "There's no reason to take a chance and jeopardize my lung capacity. My outdoor activities have come to a halt."

Surrounded by wildfires, the Rogue Valley has been hit with smoke from the 128,738-acre Chetco Bar fire near Brookings, the 12,596-acre Miller complex of fires south of Applegate and the 25,231-acre High Cascades complex that includes fires near Crater Lake. 

Working out on an elliptical machine, Sue Roeck said she has curtailed her walking, golfing, gardening, fishing and camping.

"Those are out of the question right now. I'm probably in the gym more, especially in the last week," she said, adding that she has been suffering from a sore throat, watery eyes and sneezing from the smoke.

Air-quality levels have fluctuated from moderate to unhealthy at Medford, Ashland, Shady Cove and Grants Pass air-monitoring stations that measure particulates in the air. Residents got a bit of a break Wednesday afternoon, when winds out of the north helped push smoke levels down to moderate and good for the first time in days in some locations.

Roeck said one upside of being trapped indoors is she's getting more unpleasant chores done at home, like cleaning her closets.

She said she doesn't want to complain about conditions in the Rogue Valley, especially as Hurricane Harvey is wreaking havoc in Texas.

Angela Young, assistant manager at the gym, said she is seeing more runners and cyclists working out indoors.

"The first thing they say when they come in is, "Fresh air!" she said.

Young said cyclists who have tried to push through the smoky weather have been hit with sore throats and headaches.

At the Northwest Outdoor Store, owner Scott Keith said people are still renting kayaks and paddleboards — but then they head to higher elevations.

"We've been seeing people coming here and doing kayak rentals and then trying to get out of the valley bowl. The mountain lakes are better, but you have to check every day which way the wind is blowing," he said.

Keith has a monitor where he can check webcams from around the state, then send outdoor enthusiasts to spots with less smoke.

He said runners and cyclists are looking for alternatives.

"We're seeing a lot of people totally nixing the daily bike ride or the daily run," Keith said.

At the Rogue Valley Mall, David Werthman was watching over his toddler granddaughter as she scampered around an indoor playground near J.C. Penney. He said he's been spending more time indoors lately.

"Normally we would go outside to a park or swimming pool," he said. "But as long as there's other kids around and action, she's good to go."

A group of Bureau of Indian Affairs Zuni Hotshots from New Mexico made a pit stop at the mall on its way to battle the mammoth Chetco Bar fire near Brookings. While the crew members fight wildfires, the smoke seems to turn day into night and they can barely see the person next to them, they said.

"It's much thicker than this," squad leader Marc Natchu said as he walked through the mall parking lot back to the Zuni Hotshots' fire crew vehicles. "Visibility is sometimes poor. It's an everyday thing on the fire line."

More than 2,650 people are battling the Chetco Bar, Miller and High Cascades wildfires.

To view hourly updates on smoke hazard levels in communities across Oregon, visit www.deq.state.or.us/aqi/.

To help people estimate hazard levels visually, Jackson County Health and Human Services offers the following guidelines:


When visibility is under five miles, the air is unhealthy for sensitive groups, including children, senior citizens, pregnant women and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illnesses. These people should minimize outdoor activity.
When visibility is under three miles, the air is unhealthy for everyone. The general public should minimize outdoor activity, and sensitive groups should avoid all outdoor activity.
When visibility is under one mile, the air is very unhealthy and may be hazardous. Everyone should avoid all outdoor activities.

— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.