Friday, August 21, 2015

Fire Update: Health Emergency, Nat. Geo Photos and Kings Range Closed

Posted By on Fri, Aug 21, 2015 at 12:36 PM

click to enlarge Hazy skies above the Mad River Fire. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Hazy skies above the Mad River Fire.

The Humboldt County health department announced today that it declared a smoke-related emergency for the county based on recent air quality conditions and forecasts.

In a press conference this morning, Health Officer Donald Baird said smoke is particularly bad in the eastern county, but that countywide air quality could be bad for residents. He and other officials urged residents to stay up to date on air quality conditions posted daily by the air quality district, to take precautions, and even to leave impacted areas to stay with friends and family on the coast, if possible.

Brian Wilson, of the air quality district, said particulate matter in smoke is reaching unprecedented levels in some areas, higher than the 2008 fires. That's largely due to the topography of Eastern Humboldt, where steep mountains trap smoke in deep valleys.

In addition, said NOAA Senior Meteorologist Jeff Tonkin, strong, stable inversion layers in recent weeks have kept winds from clearing inland valleys. He forecast that by tonight some smoke might be drawn to the coast but that Sunday through Tuesday would see stable winds inland that would keep thick pockets of smoke in areas near Weitchpec, Willow Creek, Hoopa and Burnt Ranch.

The county has set up cleaner air centers in Eastern Humboldt (see below for locations and hours) for people to visit during typical peak smoke hours. Office of Emergency Services Manager Dorie Lanni said the emergency declaration could mean additional federal or state funding for the county an tribes to deal with the impacts of smoke, but that declarations are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe also declared a state of emergency Tuesday, citing "sustained unhealthy air quality conditions." Emergency clean air shelters  have been established and respirators will be distributed from the K’ima:w Medical Center on a case-by-case basis. For more information, click here.

National Geographic featured photos of firefighters in Hayfork, CA. Award-winning photographer Mark Thiessen captured intense portraits of workers fighting the blaze and awe-inspiring shots of the flames.

Parts of the King Range are closed due to the Horse Fire, which is now up to 250 acres. The cause of the fire is under investigation; some suspect a campfire gone awry. For information about the volunteer firefighters protecting this region, click here.

The Washington Post reports that 7.1 million acres have burned so far across the West, with a total of 30,000 firefighters on the ground, not including support personnel. The Journal featured predictions about the scope of this year's fire season and a look into the contract workers who help support firefighters in our June 11 cover story, "A Good Year." According to Cal Fire, "Over 12,000 firefighters are battling 17 active wildfires across California." Kym Kemp has maps of fire activity on her blog, found here.

Cleaner air centers:

The following locations have been designated as cleaner air centers for residents impacted by smoke:

• Willow Creek Community Resource Center
38883 Highway 299
Willow Creek, CA 95573
Phone: 530-629-3141
Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
(Hours may vary. Please call to confirm.)

• Neighborhood Facility - Hoopa Valley Tribe
Highway 96
Hoopa, CA 95546
Phone: 530-625-4211
Monday through Sunday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• Libby Nix Community Center - Yurok Tribe
2301 Highway 96
Weitchpec, CA 95546
Phone: 530-625-4130
Monday through Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Air Quality Tip: Creating a Clean Room at Home
People who live in areas that are regularly affected by smoke from wildfires are advised to create a “clean room” in their home, if possible. A good choice is an interior room, with as few windows and doors as possible. Some suggestions for maintaining a clean room:
• Keep windows and doors closed.
• Set up a properly sized air cleaner which will help remove particles from the air while emitting no or minimal levels of ozone. For more information about residential air cleaners:
• Run an air conditioner or central air conditioning system if you have one. If the air conditioner provides a fresh air option, keep the fresh-air intake closed to prevent smoke from getting inside. Make sure that the filter is clean enough to allow good air flow indoors.
• Do not vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles.
• Do not fry or broil foods, smoke or burn anything such as candles or incense anywhere in the house.
• Keep the room clean.
• If it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, or if you are very sensitive to smoke, seek shelter elsewhere. Keep in mind that may particles will enter your home even if you take all these steps.

Specific Strategies to Reduce Smoke Exposure
• Stay indoors
• Reduce physical activity
• Reduce other sources of indoor air pollution
• Humidifiers are not air cleaners, and will not significantly reduce the amount of particles in the air during a smoke event. However, humidifiers may slightly reduce pollutants through condensation, absorption and other mechanisms.
• Vehicles – keep the window and vents closed, and if available, operate the air conditioning in “recirculate” mode.
For 24-hour Air Quality Advisory Information, call the North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District hotline toll-free at 1-866-BURN DAY (1-866-287-6329), or visit their website at 

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Linda Stansberry

Linda Stansberry

Linda Stansberry was a staff writer of the North Coast Journal from 2015 to 2018. She is a frequent contributor the the Journal and our other publications.

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