Smoke blankets the Ashland hills

SOU steps up as smoke moves in

Significant smoke moved into Ashland on Thursday night for the first time this summer and Southern Oregon University acted quickly to protect students and employees, and offer refuge for community members seeking to escape the poor air quality.

Smoke from the Milepost 97 fire, which had burned more than 1,650 acres near Canyonville as of Friday morning, blanketed much of the Rogue Valley and pushed the air quality index to “unhealthy” range.

SOU staff began regular monitoring of exterior and interior air quality and promised to take whatever actions are necessary to support the health and safety of all on campus.

Particulate-filtering N95 or N100 face masks were made available to all employees at the Facilities Management and Planning office on Walker Street. Those who spend extended periods outside were encouraged to wear the masks if air quality measurements rise above 200 and into the “very unhealthy” range at the state Department of Environmental Quality’s monitoring station in Ashland.

University staff initiated daily indoor air quality tests for every SOU building and if unfavorable conditions are found, steps will be taken such as closing the dampers to outside air, installing more effective air filters and supplying air purifiers. Building-by-building conditions will be updated later today on SOU’s Environmental Health and Safety website.

“Many of our buildings have exceptional air filtration systems and provide healthy havens from the smoke outside,” said Greg Perkinson, SOU’s vice president for finance and administration, in a Friday morning message to campus.

The university invited community members to share its healthy spaces, as it did for about two months last summer. Areas where the public can find respite from smoke include the indoor walking and running track at SOU’s Student Recreation Center, where community members will be welcome from 6 to 8 p.m. every Sunday through Thursday until outdoor air quality improves. Other on-campus spaces where the public can enjoy fresh air are located in the Stevenson Union and Hannon Library.

“The health of everyone at SOU is a top priority for all of us,” Perkinson said in his campus message. “Our monitoring of indoor and outdoor air quality will continue as we work to ensure a safe environment for students, staff and others.”