Faraway fires create smoky haze here

Smoke from fires in northern California and Oregon is collecting in the Sacramento Valley and creating very smoky conditions, made worse by smoke from the Ponderosa Fire in Butte County.

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Usually, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. But that doesn’t seem to be the case recently, as many Winters area residents are noticing the brownish-gray haze that has been blanketing the coastal hills west of town for more than a week — and it seems to be growing worse each day. The “Berryessa gap” — usually visible everywhere from town — was obliterated by haze this morning, the hills barely visible at all.

What’s up with the air? Why, when you look up at the hazy white-ish sky, does it looks more like downtown Los Angeles than Yolo County? Where are our blue summer skies?

Thomas Hall, spokesperson for the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District (SMAQMD), says all that smoke actually is coming from a fire — several of them — but they are all burning in Northern California and Oregon. One fire is more than 100,000 acres and is still not contained. Hall says some of the fires have been burning for weeks. The smoke from all these fires is being slowly carried down into California by offshore coastal breezes, which then push the smoke inland as the breezes nears the San Francisco Bay. From there, the smoke is carried along across the Delta and into the valley, where it is now collecting in Yolo and Sacramento County.

Hall says Red Bluff and Redding caught the brunt of the “stagnant haze’ yesterday, and now the smoke is being noticed further south. And, it’s only going to get worse over the next couple of days due to high atmospheric pressure, high heat and little wind. On Sunday, wind is expected to pick up and push some of the smoke away, but Hall notes “wind can be unpredictable.”

Adding to the respiratory discomfort for those living in smoky areas is an increase in the ozone layer, which forms when there is high pressure and heat, and no wind. Hall says the east side of the valley usually suffers from higher ozone layers than the west side because the Delta breezes push the heat and particulates in the air to the Sierra foothills, impacting the Placerville and Folsom areas the worst.

Hall adds that the next couple days are expected to be “off the charts hot,” with temperatures predicted above 110 degrees on Friday and Saturday. He says SMAQMD will definitely be issuing a “Spare the Air” notice on Friday, and most likely Saturday too.

What the heck is ozone?

Jenny Tan, public information officer for the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District (YSAQMD), concurs with Hall’s assessment of the breeze-carried smoke now settling in this area, and that it is only expected to get worse for the weekend.

“The smoke gets stuck up against the hills and just sits there,” says Tan.

Ozone, she explains, is another word for smog. Ozone is created when there is an increase in Volatile Organic Components (VOC), which are emitted from cars, trucks and other vehicles. In times of high heat and pressure, all these particulates are trapped in the valley, and ozone levels rise. Because the Sacramento Valley is “shaped like a bowl,” Tan says that the ozone (smog) is pushed closer to the ground.

Tan also agrees that Spare the Air days will be in effect the next two days, but warns that valley residents don’t need to wait for the official notice to take precautions.

“If you smell smoke, you’re definitely breathing it,” she says.

On days where smoke can be detected or Spare the Air warnings are posted, Tan says “sensitive groups” need to make every effort to limit their exposure to smoky air, preferably staying indoors with the air conditioning on. Sensitive groups include children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with asthma.

In addition, Tan says smoke may impact those who play sports, particularly children.

“Take precautions,” she says, advising more breaks during practices or games, or possibly cancelling them altogether.

More information about ozone and air quality, as well as the current Air Quality Index (AQI) can be found online at http://www.sparetheair.com.

Even more smoke

Although west Yolo County residents awoke to a hazy brown western horizon on Thursday morning, around noon, a breeze picked up and the smoke seemed much worse. According to the Winters Fire Department, this smoke is coming from the Ponderosa Fire in Butte County. This fire was only 10 percent contained midday on Thursday, so smoke from this fire may increase as well.

The Winters Fire Department confirmed that as of 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, there were not any major fires reported in this area, and although it smells and looks pretty bad outside, Winters residents do not have to worry about any local fires.

This was how the hills west of town looked around 9 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 31. The hazy brown air has been lingering there for more than a week, but got much worse on Thursday. (Photos by Debra DeAngelo)









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