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July 29, 2014

Smoke from Sierra wildfires prompt health cautions in Merced

Wildfires in the Sierra Nevada are bringing smoke to the Valley air basin, triggering respiratory problems for Merced residents. Local air officials expect this pattern to continue through the weekend.

Wildfires in the Sierra Nevada are bringing smoke to the Valley air basin, triggering respiratory problems for Merced residents, local air officials said Tuesday.

The French fire, which is burning in the area between Rock Creek and Fish Creek campgrounds in the San Joaquin River drainage, is also reportedly sending smoke into foothill communities in Merced, Madera, Fresno and Tulare counties.

According to Anthony Presto, a spokesman for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, officials are keeping an eye out for smoke from the El Portal and Dark Hole fires in Mariposa County and Sand fire in Amador County.

Currently, smoke from these fires is not affecting the Merced area, Presto said, but a shift in the wind could change that.

Smoke from fire is mainly particulate matter that can be very harmful to public health. Particulate matter can lodge deep in the lungs, causing illnesses such as emphysema and bronchitis as well as lung infections.

Particulate matter is so small that it can get into the bloodstream and increase the risk of a heart attack, Presto said.

Dr. Praveen Buddiga, an allergy and asthma specialist at Baz Allergy, Asthma and Sinus Center in Merced and Fresno, said he has seen an increase of patients with asthma stop by his offices.

“These fires have been significantly affecting children and adults with respiratory conditions, especially people with asthma,” Buddiga said.

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, one of the most common lung diseases, are also greatly affected, he said. “These patients have a low threshold and smoke usually bothers them,” Buddiga said.

Buddiga explained that smoke is an irritant that can cause serious damage to the respiratory lining and can also trigger nonallergic rhinitis, which involves chronic sneezing or having a congested, drippy nose.

The best way to protect oneself, according to Presto and Buddiga, is to stay away from smoky areas.

“If you see or smell smoke, it’s most likely causing some damage to your lungs,” Presto said. “The best thing to do is to remove yourself from an area that is being impacted and stay inside with filtered air.”

Children are more vulnerable to experiencing respiratory problems because their immune systems are still developing, Buddiga said. The elderly are also vulnerable, as their immune systems are weaker.

Buddiga recommends that people with respiratory conditions keep the windows rolled up when driving and follow their doctor’s instructions.

The smoke warning comes as people are battling temperatures around 100 degrees, which does not make breathing any easier because of the dry conditions it creates.

“With temperatures so high, people get dehydrated easily,” Buddiga said. “So it’s important they drink lots of water and fluids with electrolytes.”

This week’s high temperatures are expected to stay between 98 and 100, according to the National Weather Service in Hanford.

For more information on smoke and updates on air quality, people can visit the Valley Air District’s wildfire page at

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