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Fires trash air quality in SJ Valley

With three large wildfires raging in Northern California, health officials are urging residents to take precautions when it comes to being outdoors and warning about the health risks from increased levels of pollution that will be impacting the air for the foreseeable future.

According to San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, a health cautionary statement has been issued to alert residents to the possible health effects stemming from the various forest fires that are ravaging parts of the state. The immediate impacts from the Ferguson Fire in Mariposa County – which has burned more than 57,000 acres near Yosemite National Park and is only 30 percent contained – are believed to be the cause of the majority of the smoke in the atmosphere that residents have been noticing for the past several days, although other fires like the Carr Fire outside of Redding and the Mendocino Complex Fire in Lake and Mendocino Counties are also believed to be contributing to the overall quality of air throughout the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.

And the health impacts can be serious to those with medical conditions that are exacerbated by the smoke.

“Smoke from wildfires produces particulate matter which can trigger asthma attacks, aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases, and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke,” the health advisory reads. “Where conditions warrant, people with heart or lung disease should follow their doctors’ advice for dealing with episodes of particulate exposure.

“People with existing respiratory conditions, young children and elderly people are especially susceptible to the health effects of these pollutants. Anyone being exposed to poor air quality or wildfire smoke should move inside to an air-conditioned environment.”

The air quality in San Joaquin County in particular is currently listed as moderate – a designation where sensitive people and groups should reduce outdoor activities or unnecessary exposure.

But according to the San Joaquin County Public Health Department, given the volatile nature of the deadly fires that are burning across Northern California, those air quality conditions can change rapidly – at times improving before getting worse without any notice.

“The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is monitoring the air quality,” read a statement issued by the agency last week. “Even though the health risk may be rated as low, if you see or smell smoke, you are likely being impacted by it.”

Particles within the smoke, according to the release, can cause burning eyes, runny nose, coughing, scratchy throat, irritated sinuses.

San Joaquin County Public Health Officer Dr. Kismet Baldwin encourages all residents to learn whether they or their family members are at risk of being more susceptible to wildfire smoke – people with heart failure, angina, COPD, asthma or emphysema. Older people, Baldwin noted, are part of the group that needs to pay attention to the conditions, as do young children since their airways are still developing and they breathe more air per pound of weight than adults do.

Staying indoors whenever possible, especially for the classes and groups that are listed as high-risk, is encouraged.

The impact from the wildfires are expected to continue until they are extinguished.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.