Wildfire smoke chokes High Sierra | SierraSun.com

Wildfire smoke chokes High Sierra

Hazy smoke settled in the Truckee-Tahoe area again on Monday and Tuesday when winds out of the northeast carried smoke from a Plumas County fire here.

The smoky air, which decreased visibility, prompted the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District to issue an air quality health advisory for the western part of Nevada County on Monday, when the index reached a level of 111, surpassing the nationwide air quality standard for pollutants in the air.

Tahoe Forest Hospital personnel reported that the hospital has not had any patients in in the past few days complaining of respiratory problems.

Resident nurse Paul Moon said that in the Intensive Care Unit he has seen several pneumonia cases, but not from the smoke.

“It hasn’t been bad,” he said. “I think the particulate matter isn’t as bad in the summer [as it is] in the winter from burning the woodstoves.”

The health advisory did not include Truckee, said Ryan Murano, a spokesman with the air quality management district, but he said sensitive residents may experience respiratory discomfort from the smoke.

“We haven’t really had many complaints about Truckee,” Murano said Tuesday. “But we still recommend to people in the Truckee area that if they are having problems breathing, they should probably stay indoors.”

He said if breathing problems become serious, people should definitely see a doctor.

“The particulate matter is higher, but it hasn’t exceeded national ambient air quality standards,” Murano said. “In Truckee, it’s cooler, so I don’t think we’ll have an ozone episode there.”

According to Sam Longmire at the air quality district, smoke levels were at the highest in Truckee on Friday morning between 8 and 9 a.m. If levels had stayed that high over a 24-hour period, Truckee’s air quality index would have surpassed the 100 level. On Monday and Tuesday, however, Truckee’s index was between 35 and 50, which is considered good air quality, Longmire said.

The fire in Plumas County near Storrie grew to more than 20,000 acres on Tuesday, said U.S. Forest Service officials, and was only 7 percent contained. The fire, called the Storrie Fire, was started on Thursday by a Union Pacific Corp. maintenance crew working on railroad tracks in the area, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Donna Ambiel.

The low atmospheric pressure over the fire is acting like a lid, preventing the smoke from venting into the atmosphere, she said.

“The smoke is always worse in the morning than it is in the afternoons,” said Kathy Murphy, USFS fuels management specialist for the Truckee Ranger District. She said the smoke is getting trapped in the canyons and drainages and settling in the area.

“Until that fire gets under control we should see this trend continue. The smoke is likely to get worse before it gets better.”

Murphy said the heat of the day and wind causes smoke to dissipate and move out of the area in the afternoons, but that it settles back in the evenings and mornings.

Lower visibility is making it more of a challenge for fire personnel to spot wildland fires in the Truckee-Tahoe area.

“This is making it real hard for our lookouts to detect fires,” Murphy said. “If people see anything, they need to make sure to give us a call.”

The Grass Valley Union contributed to this story.

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