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Home > Natural Resources > Disaster Resources

SMOKE WARNING for Northern California

Northern California wildfires create HAZARDOUS SMOKE conditions in Sacramento Valley and Mountains - Late July '08

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AQIs in Unhealthy range expected to continue through weekend, July 26-27, 2008

Due to continuing smoke from the many wildfires burning around the state, the Air Resources Board and numerous local air quality agencies in Northern California recommend individuals in areas with 'Unhealthy' air quality indexes suspend outdoor activities. For information on air quality in your area go to and use the drop down menu to select California.

California Smoke Danger July 2008

Sacramento Valley and Mountain Communities Suffer Heavy Smoke - with HAZARDOUS Conditions

The fires continue to pour heavy smoke into communities in the northern part of the Sacramento Valley and mountain communities. Air quality has been well into the Hazardous category on back-to-back days in Trinity County in particular. Particulate matter, that can get deep into your lungs, exceeded the federal standard for clean air by almost 12 times. The weather patterns in recent days have carried the smoke progressively farther south and they are expected to reach the Sacramento area over the next days.

Clean Air Emergency Shelters in Trinity and Humboldt Counties

County and Tribal officials have opened clean air shelters in Trinity and Humboldt counties and further actions are being actively pursued to protect the residents of the area. The Air Resources Board will be setting up three additional air monitoring sites to assist the District with its forecasting and health advisories. Monitoring support is also being provided through the ARB from samplers provided by the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District, the US EPA in North Carolina, the US Forest Service, the NCUAQMD, and the local tribes.

The lower Sacramento Valley will continue to see periods of smoke for the next several days as it moves from the fire areas south with upper level winds. Expect period of the day with reduced visibility and elevated particulate concentrations. The graphic below shows the potential breadth and relative concentration of the smoke plume. Please consult your local air quality agency for up-to date information on local conditions.

An individual can approximate air quality levels by using simple visibility measurements. from weather reports and airport visibility observations. With that information, one can estimate air quality at that time is

  • 'Moderate' if visibility is 6-9 miles
  • 'Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups' at 3-5 miles,
  • 'Unhealthy' at 1.5 to almost three miles,
  • 'Very Unhealthy' between 1 and 1.5 miles and
  • 'Hazardous' when visibility is less than a mile

Alternatively, a person can simply make an estimate of his or her own. For that, be sure you have the sun at your back and use an object at a known distance from your position (Internet mapping programs such as Google or Yahoo Maps can be very helpful).

Air quality and health officials are urging the public to stay informed about regional air pollution levels through local media and air pollution control district webpages, and take the following actions when the air is unhealthy:

  • Stay indoors with windows and doors closed. Run window air-conditioners on the "re-circulate" setting, if available;
  • Most residential central air conditioning systems re-circulate the air inside the home, so these can be operated normally; however, a small percentage of newer homes have mechanical ventilation systems that actively bring in outdoor air, and these should be turned off or set to a "re-circulate" mode, if available. Do not run swamp coolers or whole house fans;
  • Minimize or stop outdoor activities, especially exercise, during smoky conditions; and,
  • 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." These resemble common dust masks but are substantially more effective at removing the airborne small particles produced from fires. Choose one that has two straps and has NIOSH, and either N95 or P100 printed on it and follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully. For more information on N-95 or P100 go to the California Department of Public Health web page here.

It is harder to breathe with these masks on so check with your doctor before using one if you have heart or lung disease, and take frequent rests if you must work. Do not use bandanas (wet or dry), paper masks, or tissues held over the mouth and nose as these are ineffective and will not protect your lungs from wildfire smoke. N-95 or P-100 respirators work best when sealed closely to the face. Beards defeat the needed seal.

Reduce Exposure and Avoid Smoke: Stay Indoors!

The most effective way to reduce exposure and avoid the ill effects of smoke is to stay indoors. Eliminate outdoor activities while air quality is in the unhealthy range. Exposure and the ensuing health effects are dependent on the amount of time spent outside, level of exertion, and air quality. Effects can be as mild as irritation of eye, nose and throat; and headache; or as serious as triggered asthma episodes or stresses on weakened cardiovascular systems.

Children and older individuals should be especially careful when the threat of exposure is high. Those with pre-existing heart and lung problems should consider curtailing activities at the AQI level of Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. Even healthy people may experience some symptoms in smoky conditions.

It is especially important for people with respiratory or heart disease monitor their health. If their symptoms worsen they should immediately consult with their health care providers. Individuals with moderate or severe heart or respiratory disease should consider alternatives and stay away from areas with high smoke concentrations. Such individuals should evaluate whether evacuation might actually cause greater exposure than staying at home using other precautions described above if smoke is already present in substantial quantities.

Additionally, small pets can also be impacted by unhealthy air and should be brought indoors if possible.

Making the decision to cancel or reschedule active outdoor events is difficult, but when smoke levels reach unhealthy levels coupled with very high temperatures, the prudent decision is to protect yours and the health of others.

Public officials may take the precautions of closing schools and businesses, canceling public events and calling for evacuation. If you are evacuated, make sure to drive with the windows rolled up and the air conditioner set to re-circulate.

For current information about local smoke conditions, find your local air quality management group here: Current Smoke Conditions .

For current and forecast particulate matter AQI information go here: Particulate Matter AQI .

More information on how to protect yourself is available go here: How to Protect Yourself from Smoke.

For a guide for public officials on wildfire smoke go here: Public/PDF .

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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