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Smoke smothers Truckee skies

Jeff Clemetson, Sierra Sun

Smoke from two Sierra Nevada wildfires transformed the Tahoe basin into a smoky haze this week, causing health advisories and restrictions at the Truckee Tahoe Airport.

The smoke problem began Sunday, when flakes of ash from the Bear and Star fires began falling into Truckee.

“Sunday we were inundated with calls because of the ash that was falling, all in a two-hour period,” said Nevada County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Gary Jacobson.

Phred Stoner, assistant general manager of Truckee-Tahoe Airport, said the smoke “has kept some people away” from flying.

At times the smoke got so bad it forced the airport to change from visual to instrument flight rules, he said.

On Tuesday, the Northern Sierra Air Quality District issued a health advisory for sensitive groups due to high levels of ozone and inhalable particles.

“People with respiratory disorders of any type – asthma, emphysema – should stay away from extreme physical activity. They should stay inside and air conditioning is always good,” said Tahoe Forest Hospital pulmonologist Dr. Greg Tirdell, adding that these conditions are “extremely irritating to anybody.”

Other sensitive groups include the elderly, children, adults with pre-existing heart and lung disease, pregnant women and athletes.

Tahoe Forest Hospital spokeswoman Teri Smith said the hospital handed out a handful of surgical masks to people wanting protection from the smoke and on Tuesday night, three people came into the hospital with breathing problems.

On Sunday and Monday, despite the raining ash, the air quality wasn’t very bad. Smoke from the Star Fire doesn’t even compare to smoke caused by fireplaces in winter, said one air quality specialist.

“These levels are not as high as a typical smoky day in January,” said Joe Fish, air pollution control specialist for the Northern Sierra Air Quality District.

But by Tuesday morning, the inhalable particle level had doubled what it was on Monday and the ozone level was double what is normal.

“This is as bad as it gets in Truckee for ozone,” Fish said.

Dr. Tirdell said that keeping an eye on the air quality index is a good idea for people with breathing disorders as well as using common sense.

“At this point you don’t need a fancy indicator,” he said. “You just look outside and if you can’t see the mountains, then you know you shouldn’t be doing anything physical.”


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