Thanks to the Yosemite Rim fire, smoke levels are creating new challenges – and paperwork – for communities at risk of fines and loss of federal funds for exceeding air quality standards intended for industry and automobiles.
The Yosemite Rim fire was some 80 percent contained as of Wednesday morning. But the fourth-largest fire in California history is still sending air pollution indexes climbing to record levels, especially in regions of Nevada and California unaccustomed to such heavy particulates in the air.
“We are still keeping our athletic teams inside for football and soccer practice,” says Elisabeth Noonan, superintendent of the 450-mile-wide Douglas County School District, in Minden, Nev., some 75 miles from the blaze.
The Air Quality Index (AQI) hit 169 by 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, she says, “and that’s considered unhealthy for all groups, not just sensitive ones such as young children or the elderly.”
At the same time, the dense smoke keeping Nevada school children inside for recess is also spotlighting the challenges many communities face when trying to balance air quality issues with fire management needs.
The levels of smoke from the growing number of large wildfires is creating serious challenges for regions such as the San Joaquin Valley, south of Yosemite National Park. “Wildfires in general are a huge detriment to public health in the San Joaquin Valley,” says Seyed Sadredin, an air pollution control officer at the San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District.
When the heavy smoke flows into the valley, the air pollution monitoring system doesn’t differentiate between the various sources, such as industry, automobiles, or wildfires, he says. If the region exceeds allowable AQI limits, it is hit with fines and loss of federal funds, he adds.