Smoke from wildfires clogging air in Northern San Joaquin Valley

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comAugust 3, 2013 

— Smoke from wildfires east of Fresno and in Northern California has blown into the Merced area in a big way and the haze is likely to last for several days.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District said smoke has reached Level 4, which means the air is unhealthy for just about everyone, said Jaime Holt, a district spokeswoman. The district has a monitoring station in Merced.

In the valley, Merced had one of the worst visibility rankings Tuesday, according to meteorologist Jim Dudley of the National Weather Service office in Hanford.

At Merced's airport, visibility was only 3 miles, compared with 5-mile visibility figures for the Fresno and Hanford airports.

Robert McLaughlin, Mercy Medical Center Merced spokesman, said the hospital's emergency room hasn't seen a big increase in respiratory distress cases. However, if the smoke lasts more than a few days, the number of such cases likely will rise, he added.

Getting the blame for the visible haze in Merced is the Aspen fire burning in eastern Fresno County near Huntington Lake, along with fires burning in Northern California and Oregon.

The fires have prompted the air district to issue a health cautionary statement for smoke impacts throughout the air basin, which includes Merced, Madera, Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties, as well as foothill and mountain areas.

Holt said the district recommends that Merced residents avoid outdoor activities and stay inside, with the windows closed. If people must be outside, they are urged to drink lots of water, take frequent breaks and try not to exert themselves.

Expected to linger

She said she can't predict if hazy conditions will worsen but said the haze is expected to last through the rest of the week and possibly into next week. If these conditions were occurring in the winter, the smoke would prompt a no-burn day designation from the air district, Holt said.

Air quality in the valley is expected to deteriorate in the coming days because of the smoke and a relatively stable weather pattern. The cautionary warning will remain in place until the fires are extinguished.

Dudley said he doesn't anticipate weather systems blowing the smoke out. There could a little bit of clearing in the early evening, but smoke will spread across the valley again overnight.

He expects the stagnant weather patterns to continue for the next couple of days.

Smoke from fires produces fine particulate matter which can cause serious health problems, including lung disease, asthma attacks, and increased risk of heart attacks and stroke.

The air district said older adults and children should avoid prolonged exposure or heavy exertion, depending on local conditions.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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