Updated 2:30 p.m., 8/26/20:
“Air Quality is much better than it has been over the past week,” said Lisa Medina, Interim Administrator for the Calaveras County Environmental Management Agency, who reported that the Air Quality Index (AQI) in the county has fallen to the “Good” to “Moderate” range in most areas. “Angels Camp AQI is satisfactory and air pollution poses little or no risk. All other locations including San Andreas, Murphys and Calaveritas have Moderate AQI and although acceptable may still pose some risk for some people that are sensitive to air pollution.”
One of the main contributors to poor air quality over the past week was the Moc Fire, which is now 60% contained. According to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), the eruption of more than 700 new wildfires since a lightning siege began on Aug. 15 has burned over 1.32 million acres statewide – an area collectively larger than the State of Delaware.
Regarding the threat of additional blazes igniting in the region, Cal Fire Asst. Deputy Director Daniel Berlant advised residents on Wednesday morning to stay prepared.
“Weather conditions continue to improve compared to last week. A strong marine layer has returned, which has helped raise relative humidity and lower temperatures in some areas. However, with a strong marine layer comes a strong onshore flow especially in the afternoon. Gusty winds can be expected of 15-20 mph,” Berlant stated. “This can make firefighting conditions challenging during those times for the next couple days. Warmer conditions are expected over the weekend. Isolated thunderstorms are still possible in the upper portion of northern California and the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. The rest of California will experience a return to a warm and dry weather pattern.”
Although the latest wildfire in Calaveras County, the Salt Fire near Salt Spring Valley Reservoir, has been 95% contained after burning nearly 1,800 acres, smoke from more than two dozen other major fires blazing across California continue to plague the county.
“Currently in San Andreas the Air Quality Index (AQI) is 169. This level is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups including children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with heart or respiratory conditions.” Lisa Medina, Interim Administrator for the Calaveras County Environmental Management Agency, told the Enterprise on Monday. “These sensitive groups are advised to limit outdoor activities.”
The primary fires affecting air quality in Calaveras County are the Salt Fire, the Moc Fire and the Bell Fire in Tuolumne County, Medina said.
“The current weather system has been able to alleviate some of the wildfire smoke. However, current fires burning in the Northern region including the Santa Clara and Salinas fires may affect our air quality as the wildfire smoke migrates towards our region,” she said. “Please keep in mind that air quality can change rapidly at different times of the day due to wind shifts and therefore it is important to monitor the smoke throughout the day and make outdoor plans accordingly.”
Due to the fact that many of the fires were ignited by a recent lightning siege, Medina says it is difficult to determine when air quality may improve in the region. In the meantime, she recommends taking the following precautions to limit smoke inhalation:
· Stay indoors with the windows and doors closed, if possible.
· Do not run fans that bring smoky outdoor air inside – examples include swamp coolers, whole-house fans, and fresh air ventilation systems.
· Run your air conditioner only if it does not bring smoke from the outdoors. Change the standard air conditioner filter to a medium or high efficiency filter. If available, use the recirculate or recycle setting on the unit.
· Limit outdoor exertion and physical activity.
· Leave the smoke-impacted areas until conditions improve if possible.
· Reduce unnecessary driving. If traveling through smoke-impacted areas, be sure that your vehicle’s ventilation system is on recirculate.
· Do not smoke, vacuum, fry food or do other things that will create indoor air pollution.
· If you have asthma, take your medications and follow your asthma management plan.
· Non-HEPA paper face mask filters and bandana-type face coverings may be helpful (in) reducing the spread of germs and viruses, but they are not capable of filtering out extra fine particulates which are much smaller in size. Therefore, they will not be helpful in protecting individuals from smoke-related impacts.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also recommended the availability of cleaner air shelters for at-risk individuals. However, COVID-19 has complicated the process of setting up overnight and extended-period shelters.
According to the CDC, “Wildfire smoke can irritate your lungs, cause inflammation, affect your immune system, and make you more prone to lung infections, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that cause(s) COVID-19. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, preparing for wildfires might be a little different this year.”
In its interim guidance for setting up cleaner air shelters, social distancing, the use of face coverings and alternative sites for symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals were just a few recommendations listed by the CDC. To read additional guidance regarding wildfire safety during the pandemic, visit cdc.gov.
In Calaveras County, there are no current plans for implementing cleaner air shelters, according to Medina.
“However, the Calaveras Air Pollution Control District (APCD) and Office of Emergency Services (OES) are working collaboratively to provide regular updates regarding wildfire smoke to our community by posting information on our websites,” she said. “We will also continue to monitor Near Surface Smoke Forecasts through the National Weather Service and all other Air Quality monitoring data. We will continue to share and provide advisories in order for our community members to be able to make informed decisions for their safety and health.”
Regarding the threat of additional blazes igniting in the region, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) Asst. Deputy Director Daniel Berlant advised residents on Monday morning to be prepared.
“A Red Flag Warning issued by the National Weather Service is still in effect for the threat of lightning with little precipitation and gusty erratic outflow winds until 5 p.m. in most of Northern California,” Berlant stated in a press release. “The threat of dry thunderstorms will decrease in the Central Valley this morning, but remain possible in portions of the foothills and mountains through the evening. … Dry weather expected Tuesday into Friday with high temperatures slightly above normal for Northern California and significant cool down is likely this week with an onshore flow and deep marine layer in Southern California. With extreme fire danger expected this weekend, it is critical that all Californians take steps to prevent sparking a wildfire.”
Recommendations include preparing an emergency supply kit, developing an evacuation plan and knowing your neighborhood exit routes.
Learn more about preventing and preparing for wildfires at readyforwildfire.org.
To sign up for Calaveras County’s emergency alert system, visit oes.calaverasgov.us.