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Wildfire Smoke Blanketing Valley Is Huge Health Hazard, So Stay Indoors

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Six major wildfires burning in Northern California are creating dangerous smoky conditions for Valley residents, who are urged to stay indoors as much as possible — even if it means the dog doesn’t get walked.

The six fires have already burned over 2,800 square miles — larger than the entire state of Delaware — and aren’t close to being contained, so the thick smoke layer will be with us for a few more days at least.

Outside, the paper medical masks and cloth masks that many people have worn as a shield against the coronavirus are insufficient as smoke barriers outdoors, said Heather Heinks, spokeswoman for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

N95 masks filter more of the noxious materials from the air, but aren’t a complete barrier. So the best advice, especially for those with heart or lung problems, is not to go outside, Heinks said — “not even to do a quick walk of the dog.”

Air Purifiers Help

Indoor air purifiers provide some relief, although those who don’t own one and who are particularly susceptible to smoke are even wearing face masks indoors.

Residents should check their HVAC air filters and change them as necessary, and same for vehicle air filters, she said.

Some residents may even want to consider heading to an indoor shopping mall, where the air is filtered, to get some relief from smoky interiors, Heinks said.

Smoke from multiple northern California wildfires poses a health hazard for Valley residents. (Cal Fire)

Real-time Air Conditions

Monitoring stations operated by the air district’s  Real-time Air Advisory Network (RAAN) track the amount of PM 2.5 particulate matter as well as ozone in the Valley, ranking air quality as ranging from green (for good) to purple (for godawful). And we are deep into the purple these days, with PM 2.5 readings topping 300 micrograms per cubic feet of air.

In Oregon, the smoke is so severe that residents are being warned not to vacuum indoors so as not to stir up smoke particles that have settled inside, and not to drive because visibility is so low.

Smartphone users of the air district’s RAAN app had some difficulty connecting Monday morning to get current readings. Heinks said the air district’s IT personnel were working on the issue. But the weblink MyRAAN was still working Monday.

The air district’s website also contains links to wildfire information.

Watch: How to Download Valley Air App

Chart of Valley Air District guidelines for air quality (GV Wire/Alexis DeSha)

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email