July 10, 2008

Butte Wildfires Shock Lives

By John Dickey, Appeal-Democrat, Marysville, Calif.

Jul. 10--Choking, bad air blown in from wildfires provided new weather-related health concerns Wednesday to go along with the sizzling heat.

Area sports events were canceled, Yuba City's Gauche Aquatic Park closed, and elderly residents, children and people with respiratory ailments were told to stay indoors after a count of tiny particles released by wildfires jumped from 50 micrograms per cubic meter to 251 micrograms in just about two hours Wednesday morning.

"It just picked up all of a sudden," said David Valler Jr., air quality control officer for the Feather River Air Quality Management District.

Valler said the bad air was pushed in from wildfires to the north in Butte County when a wind shifted and picked up. The air flow brought the particulate count to the highest levels since the wildfires started burning except for a brief, fireworks-related spike Friday.

"Basically, the winds shifted about 9 or 10 a.m. and the smoke just started rolling in," said Valler.

Any count above 35 micrograms per cubic meter for particulates 2.5 microns or smaller is considered unhealthy.

Microscopic particles given off by wildfires can irritate even the lungs of healthy people. But they are particularly dangerous for seniors, children and people with lung and heart disease, according to the district. Ash was seen on cars in the area.

The air district issued an air quality advisory at 12 p.m. calling for all nonessential outdoor activities to be suspended after air quality hit the very unhealthy to hazardous zone.

The National Weather Se vice said light offshore flow and high pressure was trapping smoke within the valley and surrounding foothills. It issued a special weather statement calling for smoke to continue through the weekend.

California has a total of 323 wildfires burning. And, with the Concow wildfire to the north in Butte County, the Government Springs fire to the east in the mountains south of Interstate 80, and the Mendocino complex to the west, Yuba-Sutter is in the middle of what Cal Fire Battalion Chief Bill Mendonca called a "trifecta" of fires that filled the Mid-Valley basin with smoke.

Yuba-Sutter's bad air occurred despite the lack of any fires in Yuba County. Two small fires started in Nevada County near Penn Valley but were quickly extinguished before they reached two acres.

Rideout Memorial Hospital and Sutter North Urgent Care both reported typical numbers of patients with respiratory ailments Wednesday with no surge in people seeking treatment for smoke-related problems.

"We thought we would see an increase, but so far we have not," said Willie de Graaf Olson, nurse practitioner with Sutter North Urgent Care.

The only silver lining in the dark cloud that blew in was a high temperature that was a few degrees cooler than expected. Wednesday's high was 106 degrees instead of the 110 degrees forecast.

Though it was a bit cooler, Yuba City was taking no chances with the heat Wednesday. The city set up a cooling shelter with 50 cots at its Senior Center, 777 Ainsley Ave., that will be open nonstop through 5 p.m. Friday.

Brad McIntire, the city's interim parks and recreation director, said the idea was to give people a place to cool off at night. When the nighttime temperatures reach 80 degrees, people cannot shed heat and the danger rises.

"We think there is a potential need out there, and we just want to be proactive," said McIntire.

The National Weather Service is forecasting temperatures of 108 degrees today with a low of 71 degrees overnight. Highs were expected to hit 101 degrees Friday and near 100 degrees for Saturday and Sunday.


--Stay indoors with windows and doors closed. Run window air-conditioners on the re-circulate setting, if available.

--Minimize or stop outdoor activities, especially exercise, during smoky conditions.

--People in a "high risk" group or those who cannot find adequate shelter from the smoke need to move to an emergency shelter.

--If you must be outside in a smoky area, healthy individuals may wish to wear a mask called a "particulate respirator."

--Children and older individuals should be especially careful when the threat of exposure is high.

--It is especially important for people with respiratory or heart disease to monitor their health.

Source: California Air Resources Board


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Copyright (c) 2008, Appeal-Democrat, Marysville, Calif.

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