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Fires Pose Health Concerns

COUNTY – Two wildfires, Willow Fire in Madera County and Cabin Fire in Tulare County, have prompted local air officials to issue a health cautionary statement for smoke impacts throughout the eight-county air basin: San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and the Valley portion of Kern counties. As any local resident can attest, currently smoke impacts are concentrated in the mountainous and foothill areas of the air basin. Impacts on the Valley floor are also possible until the fires are extinguished.

Face masks are not necessarily effective for preventing health complications during fire season, says Jaime Holt of the Valley Air District. For that reason, and because so many different types of masks exist and are sold and distributed to the public for a variety of reasons such as painting and woodworking, the District has no recommendation for filtering masks. Rather, Holt says, they suggest that people with health concerns simply stay indoors as much as possible during times of poor air quality due to fires. The District also suggests people with questions about breathing and air quality contact their health care providers directly.

Smoke from fires produces fine-particulate matter (PM2.5), which can cause serious health problems including lung disease, asthma attacks and increased risk of heart attacks and stroke. Where conditions warrant, people with heart or lung disease should follow their doctors’ advice for dealing with episodes of particulate exposure. Additionally, older adults and children should avoid prolonged exposure or heavy exertion, depending on their local conditions.

People with existing respiratory conditions, young children and elderly people are especially susceptible to health effects from these pollutants. Air District officials urge residents to follow their doctors’ orders when exposed to fire emissions.

Residents can check the District’s wildfire page at www.valleyair.org/wildfires for information about any current wildfires and whether they are impacting the Valley. Residents can also check the nearest air monitor to their location to determine localized air-quality conditions. Visit the Real-time Air Advisory Network page on the District’s website to subscribe for free: www.valleyair.org/RAAN.

For more information, visit www.valleyair.org or call a District office in Fresno (559-230-6000), Modesto (209-557-6400) or Bakersfield (661-381-1809).

Photo by Wayne Coe – Willow Fire, Aug. 1, 2015

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