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Air board urges cancellation of athletic events today

The valley air district today urged school districts to cancel all outdoor athletic events because of the smoky haze hanging over the San Joaquin Valley.

The recommendation by the air board was unprecedented and came hours before the first full night of the season's high school football games in the region. Dozens of football teams in Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties could be affected, as would athletes playing soccer, tennis and water polo.

No games involving the six public high schools in Modesto have been cancelled, according to Scott Kuykendall, the director of educational services.

All games through the weekend were cancelled in Merced County, although teams headed to away games in areas deemed safe by the air district will still compete, Merced Union High School Superintendent Robert Fore said.

While the Chowchilla-Le Grand game was canceled, Merced High still planned to play at Madera.

Atwater, which was to host Nevada Union, instead will travel to the Grass Valley school. Livingston is considering switching its game from its field to Bret Harte in Angels Camp.

Fore said air quality is expected to remain poor through the weekend.

“It’s prudent to protect the health of our student athletes,” he told the Merced Sun-Star. “That’s our top priority.”

Farther south in the valley, the Fresno, Clovis and Central unified school districts canceled all outdoor activities today except varsity football games. The districts will decide this afternoon if the varsity games will be played.

The air district released its warning about 11:30 a.m. to all county offices of education as well as school district offices in eight counties from San Joaquin to Kern.

“If they can smell smoke or see smoke, we are urging them to put a hold on these activities where kids are exerting themselves and breathing the smoke,” said Jaime Holt, an air district spokeswoman.

The smoke contains tiny particles that can get into the lung passages, making it difficult to absorb oxygen in the bloodstream, Holt said. Adverse effects that are attributed to smoke include aggravation of heart and lung diseases and asthma.

The district also warned those with chronic breathing conditions, as well as children or seniors at higher risk, to avoid prolonged exposure to the smoky air.

The smoke is the result of a fire in western Stanislaus County and another farther north in Plumas County. The Lick fire in western Stanislaus County and the Moonlight fire in Plumas County together have burned nearly 40,000 acres this week. Smoke from them has hung over the valley since Monday.