Air quality in the Sauk Valley at or near unhealthy levels as wildfire smoke continues to drift in

Haze from the wildfires in Canada have blanketed a portion of northern Illinois. This photo was taken along Illinois Route 2 south of Oregon.

The air quality in the Sauk Valley, which was tainted Thursday by winds from the north blowing in smoke from the ongoing Canadian wildfires, went from moderately affected in the morning to just plain unhealthy by late afternoon.

According to the National Weather Service and Air Now, smoke from fires now burning in Ontario, the province due north of Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois, is forecast to cause a mix of air quality conditions through Saturday at least.

As of 4 p.m. Thursday, the Air Quality Index showed the pollutants in Oregon, Dixon, Sterling and Rock Falls were hovering between the conditions of unhealthy for those sensitive to pollution and unhealthy for anyone in the general public.

Those sensitive include people with respiratory conditions and heart or lung disease, as well as children, teens and seniors.

Those who are at risk, or those simply feeling the effects of the smoke, are advised to stay indoors, to participate in less strenuous activities or shorten the amount of time they are active outdoors.

Sarah Alvarez-Brown is director of Emergency Services and Behavioral Health at CGH Medical Center in Sterling.

“With the air quality at its current levels, we are beginning to see a slight increase in emergency rooms visits for patients suffering from respiratory issues,” Alvarez-Brown said in an email. “On average, 20% of ED visits involve respiratory issues and difficulty breathing, but over the last couple of days, we have seen this jump to 30-40% of visits.

“No matter your age – infants to older adults – if you have a pre-existing respiratory condition, asthma, heart or lung disease, or are sensitive to changes in air quality, you may want to limit your time outside or stay indoors, in an air-conditioned or air-purified environment, until the smoke and haze passes.

“As always, if you are having severe shortness of breath, please do not hesitate to come to the Emergency Department.”

Go to to get condition updates. The air quality levels are updated hourly.

Kathleen Schultz

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.