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Northern California has Worst Air Quality in the World

California’s most deadly wildfire is still burning

The Camp Fire roared through the town of Paradise, California and decimated everything in its path and continues to burn.

California has just experienced its deadliest-ever wildfire. The fire may not be as destructive as it was a couple of days ago, yet many Californians must now face the accumulation of toxic and hazardous smoke that plagues the very air that we breathe.

The powerful blaze has destroyed over 10,000 homes, and claimed over 70 lives, with over 1000 people still missing. The 150,000 acres that burned sent fine particles into the air which has created the danger that many in the heavily affected areas are facing. Currently these impacted areas have the worst quality rated air in the world.

Brian Mistler is the executive director of student health and well-being at Humboldt State University.

“The wildfire smoke that is filling the air is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials,” Mistler said. “This smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases.”

The areas that are heavily affected by the smoke are mostly south of Butte County. The air in areas like San Rafael, Oakland, and Vacaville are considered “very unhealthy” along with the Sacramento area considered to be “hazardous” by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Young children, older adults, and those with asthma or with heart or lung conditions are heavily at risk.

The North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District uses the EPA Air Quality Index range to inform people to the quality of air they are breathing. 0-50 is considered good. 51-100 is considered moderate and requires sensitive individuals should limit outdoor use. 101-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups and requires those groups to reduce heavy outdoor exertion. 151-200 is considered unhealthy and sensitive groups should avoid all outdoor exertion. 201-300 is considered very unhealthy and states everyone should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion. Anything higher than 300 is considered hazardous and states everyone should avoid going outside.

Debra Harris is the North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District’s burn program coordinator. Harris said that because of winter conditions temperature inversions are affecting the disbursement of smoke across the state. These conditions are dragging the smoke from Butte County down to the bay area.

The air quality for Eureka is listed at 81, which is moderate and only those with serious health conditions should seek to limit going outdoors.

Not only is the Camp Fire in northern California affecting everyone in the state, but the Woolsey Fire in southern California has also made an impact on hurting our air quality.

Harris said that since last week, “better air” is being brought down from the northern winds.

Recent developments have once again pointed to poor management on part of PG&E as the cause of the Camp Fire. According to PG&E officials, they experienced an outage on a transmission line on the morning of Nov. 8 near the town Pulga, which is where the fire is believed to have started.

Jeffery Kane is an associate professor of fire ecology and fuels management at HSU. Kane believed more can be done to prevent devastating results from wildfire.

“The more fuel there is to burn, the more smoke you will get,” Kane said.

Fuel is regarded as what makes the fire so devastating, because like a car that burns gasoline, fire uses wood the same way. The dry conditions that California has faced also lead into making this “fuel” drier as moisture usually slows down the burning process.

“We have too much fuel in some areas, and when you have more homes surrounded by vegetation, those homes are surrounded by fuel,” Kane said.

The wind played a factor in both the northern and southern California fires. Kane added the fierce fire was a product of fierce winds and high heat. During the fires, 30 mph winds were recorded, which allowed the Camp Fire blaze to consume almost a football field every 3 seconds.

In the coming days, rain is in the forecast for California, which is a godsend for the blazing fires but there are new fears for disaster from mudslides.

“We need the rain to help with these fires,” Kane said. “But we need to build better homes, and make them fire resistant so that we do not have another blaze that turns homes into rolling dominoes.”

 

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