Coughing, red, burning eyes, difficulty breathing and it’s not even cold and flu season yet — it’s the smoke season. As smoke and ash from the American Fire near Foresthill and the Rim Fire in Tuolumne County roll into El Dorado County each morning, hundreds of people are affected.
“We can expect the smoke to continue for weeks,” said Teri Mizuhara, information officer for the Amador-El Dorado Cal Fire unit. “The Rim Fire is about 189,000 acres and only 20 percent contained. They are working on a containment line, but when the fire is contained, it will continue to smoulder and burn until winter.”
The magnitude of the fire and the terrain that is burning allow for containment, but not complete extinguishment said Mizuhara. “After containment, the center will continue to burn. The winds have been coming from the southwest, which means they are going northeast and they are pushing the smoke towards us, so depending on the direction of the winds, we could be in the pathway for quite a while.”
El Dorado County Public Health Information Officer Maggie Williams said both the time of day and the location make a difference in the smoke levels. “Smoke settles in the cold, which is why we’ve had so much smoke in the morning. Then as the day warms, the smoke rises and we’ve had some winds that have been blowing it out in the afternoon. El Dorado Hills has been much clearer than the higher elevations where its cooler,” she said.
Smoke is made up of gases and fine particles and the fine particles pose the greatest health hazard. Microscopic particles get into respiratory systems and eyes aggravating chronic heart and lung diseases such as congestive heart failure, angina, emphysema, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as causing eye irritation, coughing, irritated sinuses, headaches, runny nose or scratchy throat.
Children and older adults are particularly susceptible to smoke and should pay attention to air quality reports.
To reduce the effect that smoke has on you, stay alert to local air quality reports that give recommendations about precautions to take to protect your health. The air quality index measures particulate matter in the air — the lower the number, the cleaner the air. On Tuesday, the Air Quality for Placerville was listed at 71, which is moderate.
If advised to stay indoors, keep air as clean as possible. Windows and doors should be closed. Use the air conditioner if it is hot outside and you have one. Keep the fresh air intake closed in order to prevent bringing additional smoke inside.
If you have no air conditioner and the weather is extremely hot, staying inside with the windows and doors closed may be dangerous, so seek alternative shelter. Avoid using anything that burns such as wood fireplaces, gas logs, gas stoves, candles. Do not vacuum as it stirs up particles already inside your home.
If the air quality is listed as moderate, between 51-100, usually sensitive people should reduce heavy or prolonged exertion. If listed as Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, 101-150, people with heart or lung disease, older adults and children should reduce heavy or prolonged exertion. Air quality listed as Unhealthy, 151-200, people with heart or lung disease, children or older adults should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion and all other people should reduce it. A Very Unhealthy air quality, 201-300, means that people with lung or heart disease, children and older adults should avoid all physical activity outdoors and all other people should avoid heavy or prolonged exertion.
Dust masks are not enough to protect against the extremely fine particles found in smoke. When smoke is heavy for a prolonged period of time, fine particles build up indoors although they are not visible. People with heart or lung disease, children and older adults should talk to their doctor about whether and when they may need to leave the area.
It’s important to keep airways moist by drinking plenty of water and breathing through a warm, wet washcloth can relive dryness.
Animals are also affected by smoke particles and the outdoor physical activity of pets and working livestock should be limited. Animals may be confused or startled by smoky conditions.
El Dorado National Forest assistant public information officer Christy Shorter said the Carson Pass information station had been closed and the volunteers who staff it sent home. “The forest is open, but there’s just too much smoke. People should stay indoors and limit their activities,” Shorter said.
The El Dorado County Website is a great resource for information about local fires, wildfire smoke information, including visibility, air quality and ways to protect your health during smoky conditions. Visit it at edcgov.us and click on “Wildfire Information.”
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.