Smoke sticking around this week
July 14, 2008
Thick smoke has caused some local residents to head to their doctors to seek treatment for respiratory problems ” and local air quality officials warn that air quality won’t improve for several more days.
Dr. Paul Krause of the Truckee Tahoe Medical Group said he has treated a few patients because of the smoke.
“I’m kind of surprised there aren’t more,” he said.
The handful of people who visited the doctor had respiratory problems, mostly flaring asthma, Krause said. But there have been just as many patients with cottonwood allergies, he said.
Krause said his regular patients say they haven’t been exercising outside as often, but his advice is to stay active indoors at a gym or a pool, and not forget about exercising.
Dr. Ed Heneveld of Tahoe Forest Hospital said the smoke, coming from a wildfire off of Interstate 80 near Blue Canyon, is causing residents and visitors to pause.
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“I think people are respecting the bad air quality and staying inside.”
Heneveld said he’s received many complaints about the smoke, but there hasn’t been a huge bump in emergency room visits.
“It’s a little surprising,” he said. “I expected more.”
However, Heneveld said he has treated three firefighters in the last three days.
“We definitely know it’s bad out there,” he said.
The smoke hanging in the air around the Truckee-Tahoe area isn’t expected to go away this week, but could slowly get better.
Still blowing over from the western slope, the smoke is being generated by wildfires in the American and Yuba river canyons. While the Yuba complex is nearly contained, firefighters aren’t expected to have a handle on the American River blaze until Aug. 1.
“Smoke and haze will continue to be an issue ” light winds of up to five miles per hour will continue to bring in the smoke and haze,” said Kyle Mozley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno.
The smoke is expected to be at its worst Tuesday and Wednesday, after which winds will shift from coming out of the west to the southwest, but that won’t likely make a big difference, Mozley said.
Despite the haze, there isn’t a health advisory being issued in the Truckee Tahoe area by the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District, said Joe Fish Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer.
“We’re not forecasting unhealthy smoke this week,” Fish said. “And based on the current fire news we should see a slow improvement.”
Fish said he optimistically predicts getting back to normal levels in two weeks.
“There are fewer fires burning and they are getting a handle on them,” Fish said. “It’s still burning but at least it’s not racing into new areas.”
While the Yuba River Complex Fire is 95 percent contained at 3,819 acres as of Monday Afternoon, the U.S. Forest Service said residents should expect smoke to continue to come out of the fire area.
“There are still fuels within the containment lines,” said Gina Torvinen, spokeswoman for Tahoe National Forest. “From the air with thermal [imaging] they still see a lot of hot spots.”
The American River Complex, which includes the fire near Blue Canyon, is only 30 percent contained at 18,721 acres, according to a press release from the Forest Service.
“We don’t expect a huge blast of smoke,” said Vince Mazzier, fire information officer with the forest. “But we could potentially see a little smoke for quite a while.”
Overall temperatures should be cooling throughout the week, Mozley said.
The weekend’s isolated thunderstorms were wet, putting down up to half an inch of rain in certain areas, Mozley said.
“If you see smoke and smell smoke, you are most likely breathing unhealthy levels of particulates. The more smoke you see and smell, the higher the unhealthy levels of particulates,” according to the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District’s Web site.
Recommendations for minimizing smoke exposure from myairdistrict.com.
– Stay indoors with windows and doors closed; run air-conditioner on “re-circulate” setting. Do not run swamp coolers or whole house fans. It is recommended that heat-sensitive individuals use fans for cooling or they may consider leaving the area.
– Minimize or stop outdoor activities, especially exercise, during smoky conditions.
– Disposable particulate respirators found at hardware stores can be effective at reducing exposure to smoke particles as long as they seal closely to the wearer’s face. Look for respirators that have two straps and have the words “NIOSH” and either “P100” or “N95” printed on the filter material. Particulate respirators will not provide complete protection in very smoky conditions. There is some controversy surrounding the use of particulate respirators because of the many variables that may hinder their proper use.
– People in a “high risk” group or those who cannot find adequate shelter from the smoke outside may need to move to an emergency shelter.