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Wildfires Impacting Mother Lode Air Quality

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Sonora, CA – Wildfires in Northern California are creating smoke-filled skies in the Mother Lode and have area health departments alerting the public to the conditions that could bring health risks.

The public health departments of Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, in conjunction with air pollution control district officials, have issued advisories to the public regarding the potential for moderate to poor air quality, especially with the Salt Fire burning in Calaveras County being a primary contributor.

“Poor air quality caused by nearby fires can lead to health problems for those at increased risk. Those considered sensitive to the unhealthy effects of smoke caused by breathing the small particles in the air include those with asthma, lung problems such as COPD, those with heart conditions, and those over 65 years old”, says Dr. Dean Kelaita, Calaveras County Health Officer. “Those considered at higher risk should take precautions to minimize their exposure to the smoky air”.

Dr. Kelaita details that conditions tend to improve in the afternoon and early evening hours as smoke rises. He adds that smoke tends to move downhill, becoming more concentrated in lower elevation areas including the foothills and the lower river drainage basins during the evening hours.

Health officials advise that smoke contains very tiny particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs and people may experience varying degrees of symptoms due to exposure, the health risk to an individual depends on age, health status, and length of exposure. For the young and elderly or those with underlying health conditions, it is imperative that measures be taken to minimize your exposure to wildfire smoke. Anyone experiencing serious symptoms should contact their health care provider or the emergency department.

The following are recommendations to reduce your exposure to smoke:

  • If you can see or smell smoke, limit all unnecessary outdoor activities
  • Stay indoors, closing all windows and doors and use the air conditioner on the recirculation setting
  • Limit even indoor physical activities: Keep in mind that healthy individuals can be negatively impacted by the pollutants from smoke
  • Wearing a mask indoors is not considered adequate protection for smoke-related impacts
  • Smoking, using the vacuum, fireplace, or candles are not advised due to the buildup of particulate matter from these activities
  • If you have asthma, take your medications, and follow your asthma management plan
  • Non‐HEPA paper face mask filters and bandana-type face coverings may be helpful in reducing the spread of germs and viruses, but they are not capable of filtering out extra fine particulates which are much smaller in size. Therefore, they will not be helpful in protecting individuals from smoke-related impacts
  • Reduce unnecessary driving. If traveling through smoke-impacted areas, be sure that your vehicle’s ventilation system is on recirculate
  • Check on your loved ones and neighbors