Poor air quality from the Camp Fire in Butte County is expected through the rest of the week, according to officials.
Constant smoke from the fire combined with a lack of wind has left a layer of haze over much of Northern California and Chris Brown, with the Feather River Air Quality Management District said it reaches all the way to San Fransisco.
“There are two factors: the amount of smoke coming from the fire and how quickly it can leave the area; and since there’s not much wind, the smoke can’t leave the area so we’re stuck with it for now,” he said. “The west side of the valley is pretty clear but further west in Lake County and into the Bay Area it’s smokey.”
Cory Mueller, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento, said lighter winds this week will help fire fighting efforts but other factors make things more challenging.
“Good news for the fire is we’re expecting less wind this week – the winds are calming near the Camp Fire,” he said. “Unfortunately, above average temperatures and lower humidity means it’ll be dryer.”
He said typically there’s a recovery of humidity overnight, but that’s not happening, which also makes fire fighting efforts more difficult.
“We’re keeping an eye on a weather pattern shift to more onshore flow and possible rain next week but it’s low confidence at this point,” Mueller said. “Even if it doesn’t rain, the onshore flow brings moisture, which is good.”
Brown said the smoke density can vary depending on the area.
“It has a lot to do with the elevation of the smoke and the elevation of the winds,” Brown said. “The smoke is doing different things in different places – it’s highly variable.”
He said there are things people can do to stay healthy while the area is enveloped in a smoky haze:
“At the levels we’re seeing now, it’s hazardous for everyone and you shouldn’t be doing things outside that you don’t have to,” Brown said. “Saturday was the worst day and we’re getting into the purple range which is hazardous for everyone.”
He said the website, airnow.gov is a good resource for people to get up-to-date information on air quality and sign up for alerts.
“A lot of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units have a fan that can help keep the fresh air in the house and I’d look at replacing filters at the house soon after the fire,” he said. “Most cars have a recirculate button and a cabin air filter so your car can be used as a mini-shelter from the smoke.”
ν Brown said that all burning is banned until the smoke subsides but some people don’t adhere to the law.
“Even though all burning is banned, people are still burning and it always surprises me – give it a week because there’s nothing that important that it can’t wait,” he said. “Last year, we referred some cases of people burning to the district attorney.”
He said burning at this time causes more air quality issues, increases the chances of a fire escaping and scares neighbors who are already on edge with a fast-moving wildfire nearby.
“We encourage all sports teams and schools to check with the Air Now website because now is not a good time to have practice outdoors,” he said. “If you can get a break, go to a higher elevation to escape the air – at about the 5,000-foot level, the smoke level drops off.”