While an estimated 800 wildfires blaze throughout California, Davis is seeing the effects in the thick layer of smoke that has descended on the town and campus this week.
A fire burning on the border of Napa and Solano counties in particular is contributing the majority of the smoke that has settled in and around Davis.
“As long as that fire is burning, we figure we will be impacted,” said Kathy Coulter, public information officer for the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District.
Air quality agencies throughout Northern California have been urging everyone to stay inside, especially sensitive populations such as children, the elderly and those with respiratory difficulties.
“The rule of thumb is if you can see or smell smoke, then it’s in the air and you need to protect yourself,” Coulter said. “Even if your house is sealed off, you could still be getting the bad air in, so minimize activity. If you’re a healthy person it still wouldn’t be good to go outside and run or jog.”
Smoke raises the level of particulate matter in the air which irritates the respiratory system and can cause watery eyes, a sore throat and sinus problems. Particulate matter, which contains soot and ash, in its smallest form is undetectable to the naked eye, but creates a visible layer of smoky haze that settles low to the ground.
“Some smoke has more adverse effects, some has less,” said Jianlin Hu, a UC Davis graduate student in atmospheric science. “From this fire, the problem is that the particle size is quite small so it can go deep into your lungs and can cause more serious problems. Also because the size is small, the particles can be transported for long distances.”
Davis air quality was classified as “unhealthy for sensitive groups” on Sunday and Monday. When particulate matter levels rose Tuesday the air was deemed unhealthy for all and is forecasted to remain so at least through Friday, according to Air Now, a U.S. government air quality monitoring website.
Cowell Student Health Center has seen several mild cases of aggravated asthma due to smoke in the air this week, said Maureen Greenhagen, patient care services manager.
“If you have asthma, [smoke] can trigger tightness and wheezing,” she said. “We are recommending for everybody, but especially those with asthma, not to exercise outside, keep the windows closed and use the air conditioner at home and in the car.”
The Napa and Solano fire, which has burned 4,089 acres, destroyed a barn and caused one injury, began June 21 at 4 p.m.
“The cause of the fire remains under investigation,” said John Hart, public information officer for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “A lot of fires were started by lightning, but I think most of the lightning was further up north.”
Firefighters caught a break early in the week with cooler weather and milder winds. While authorities were able to completely contain the fire as of Wednesday, there is no estimate on when it will be entirely put out.
“It’s going to be a long time until it’s completely out,” Hart said. “The wind is a critical factor, but because it is contained, things are looking pretty good. I think that fire is grinding down, but who knows what the future might hold.”
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