Western wildfires: Bad air still choking the North State. When will smoke from the fires lift?

Jessica Skropanic Redding Record SearchlightPublished 3:26 PM EDT Sep 15, 2020Bad air still choking the North

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Bad air still choking the North State. When will the wildfire smoke lift? 

Tuesday, Sept. 15

Air pollution remained at unhealthy levels on Tuesday as smoke from wildfires in Northern California and Southern Oregon continued to roll over the North State.

All people should avoid going outside when possible, especially the elderly, children and people with health issues.

This week, public health and air quality control officials in Shasta, Siskiyou, Tehama, and Trinity counties issued air quality advisories warning residents of bad air this week.

While unhealthy in Redding, Anderson and Cottonwood, pollution levels were moderate to low in some eastern areas of Shasta County, including Montgomery Creek and Burney, according to the EPA's Air Now program.

"That's a perfect example of the complexity of the topography in Shasta County," Shasta County Air Quality District Manager John Waldrop said. Those areas got a little relief from winds moving the smoke around.

The sun could also help improve our air quality at times, Waldrop said. If sunlight can poke through the smoke, it can heating the ground. Hot air rises and can lift the smoke higher, improving the quality of the air we breathe.

The North State may see a little break in the smoke Friday, but it's too soon to tell, Waldrop said.

Winds might pick up a bit on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service in Sacramento. Mountain areas in Siskiyou County and in East Shasta County might see showers and isolated thunderstorms on Thursday and Friday.

"It's looking like Friday we might see a different weather pattern developing — possibly northwesterly winds (blowing southeast)," Waldrop said. "I'm really not going to make any predictions at this moment."

Until Friday, everyone should stay indoors with the windows and doors closed, preferably in air conditioning, when possible, according to Shasta County Air Quality Management District advisories sent Monday and Tuesday. 

"Wildfire smoke — a mix of gases and fine particles from burning vegetation, building materials and other materials — can make anyone sick," according to the district's website. "Even someone who is healthy can get sick if there is enough smoke in the air."

Health impacts from wildfire smoke include:

  • Coughing
  • Trouble breathing normally
  • Stinging eyes
  • A scratchy throat
  • Runny nose
  • Irritated sinuses
  • Wheezing/shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • An asthma attack
  • Tiredness
  • Fast heartbeat

Read more about creating a "clean room" and other ways to protect yourself from bad air at the district's website: https://bit.ly/35IsvM7

More fire-related stories:

What we know Tuesday about wildfires in the North State: Death toll at 15 in North Complex; two schools destroyed

Trump blames California, but here's how much federal land fires have burned this summer

Original story

Smoke reaches as far east as Michigan; air hazardous to breathe in parts of North State

Monday, Sept. 14

Smoke from wildfires in the western United States has spread east, raising pollution levels as far as the Great Lakes region, according to the National Weather Service.

In California's North State, pollution levels are unhealthy to very unhealthy, and the hazy skies will be around for most of the week. What's more, an air quality advisory is in effect for the entire state of Oregon through Thursday.

Redding's levels dropped into the high unhealthy range Monday morning, according to the EPA's AirNow air quality index (AQI).

Conditions could worsen again if the smoke thickens, according to a Shasta County air quality advisory.

Some areas of the county may see more smoke and pollution than other areas depending on how close they are to wildfires, and depending on current weather conditions, Shasta County Air Quality Management District officials said.

Air pollution levels in Mount Shasta and Yreka also were considered very unhealthy on Monday, a range sustained daily since Friday, according to Air Now.

Right now, “we have really crappy air," Siskiyou County air pollution control office Jim Smith said. "In places, it has been very hazardous since the Red Salmon Fire started.”

People should avoid areas with active fires throughout the North State, like Happy Camp, Smith said.

California wildfires: Critical fire weather forecast for area of North Complex; fire now 26% contained

Light winds every day this week, and gusty winds predicted Thursday, may move the smoke, according to a forecast from the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

“The bad news for Redding is it will be southerly winds (during the day), pushing smoke from the August Complex north,” NWS meteorologist Cory Mueller said.

At night, winds going south will likely push smoke from fires in Oregon and Northern California over Mount Shasta and into Shasta County, Mueller said.

Strong wind gusts predicted Thursday, together with dry fuels, could spread current fires and enable the start and spread of new ones, according to Monday's NWS forecast.

Until the smoke clears and air quality improves, people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly, pregnant women and children should reduce their time, and avoid when possible, going outside, the advisory said. Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion. When possible:

  • Limit exercise and outdoor activities.
  • Remain indoors with the windows and doors closed.
  • Turn on an air conditioner with a recirculation setting, such as in a vehicle.

The Shasta County Air Quality Management District operates air quality monitors in Anderson and Redding that read pollution levels in the area.

Siskiyou County has permanent monitors in Yreka and Mount Shasta.

Both counties have numerous portable sensors positioned throughout their areas.

As of Saturday afternoon, wildfire smoke reached as far east as Michigan, according to satellite imagery taken by NWS meteorologists in Maryland and posted on Twitter. 

5 questions answered: How to stay safe during the pandemic when it's smoky

Jessica Skropanic is features reporter for the Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. She covers science, arts and social issues entertainment stories. Follow her on Twitter @RS_JSkropanic and on Facebook. Join Jessica in the Get Out! Nor Cal recreation Facebook group. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today. Thank you.

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