Air alert, stay indoors |

Air alert, stay indoors

Residents are urged to avoid outdoor activity again today as the air alert for Nevada County continues. However, there has been some progress on area wildfires causing the problem.

Overnight ozone levels hit unhealthy levels bordering on very unhealthy, and particulates from Northern California fires caused the air quality index to hit the hazardous range, said Joe Fish at the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District in Grass Valley.

“I don’t see things clearing up and they’re talking about more lightning strikes over the weekend,” Fish said this morning. “There won’t be any let-up,” if stretched-thin fire crews can’t get to them.

Fish said the air alert will probably continue Friday and maybe even longer as the blazes continue. “I expect we’ll see the same pattern where it will clear up a little bit in the afternoon and then get smoky again at night and we’ll wake up to it.”

Earlier this week, Fish said if you can see or smell smoke, it’s probably a good idea to stay inside, particularly those with existing breathing conditions.

“The numbers are so high, our machines are having trouble keeping up,” Fish said. “The filters are clogging up with the particulates.”

Conditions caused the City of Grass Valley to cancel summer recreation programs and the open swim program at the Memorial Park Pool through the weekend.

The situation will be re-evaluated Monday and you can call the city at 477-6483 then for answers.

The cumulative impacts of the smoky conditions that started Monday will probably start showing up now in people at risk, Fish said.

Many healthy Nevada County residents have complained of headaches, nasal and throat irritation since the pall of smoke settled over the county.

The conditions have caused the Nevada County Health and Human Services Agency to begin checking on at-risk residents in the Washington area and others in the county who use agency services and oxygen.

Local medical equipment suppliers who provide oxygen all report sufficient supplies, but note that oxygen can only be procured with a valid medical prescription, the county said.

For the general public, masks can be purchased at local pharmacies and hardware stores.

For more information regarding how to minimize an individual’s exposure to the high levels of smoke and ash, call the County Public Health Department at 265-1450.

Progress was made on the wildfires overnight, according to Ann Westling of the Tahoe National Forest. The amount of hard-to-find firefighters has also grown to 628 from just under 300 on the Yuba River Complex of fires earlier in the week.

Firefighters on the complex have managed to contain 40 percent of the 900-acre Scotchman Fire that once threatened the town of Washington, and 87 percent of the 180-acre 25 Fire near Camptonville.

Still going strong on the complex last night was the 1,300-acre Fall Fire near Bowman Lake which was only 12 percent contained and the Celina Fire near Graniteville, which had grown to 300 acres and had zero containment. Approximately 2,680 acres have burned in the complex.

On the American River Complex in Placer County, the 1,000-acre Government Fire and the 50-acre Westville Fire in Placer County were not contained at all and contributing to the overall air quality problem.

Meanwhile in California a lightning-sparked wildfire in the Los Padres National Forest that had already burned 16 homes was moving closer to the scenic community of Big Sur, where it threatened another 500 houses.

The blaze was only 3 percent contained late Wednesday and had burned nearly 30 square miles near the coast about a mile south of Big Sur, officials said.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service predicted more dry lightning toward the end of the week, although forecasters did not expect as severe an electrical storm as last weekend, when nearly 8,000 lightning strikes sparked about 800 fires across Northern California.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited Monterey County to assess the damage and said he has called in the National Guard to help fight the fires.

“The fact is that when you have that many fires ” and there are still 700 fires left all over the state of California ” you get stretched thin with the resources,” Schwarzenegger said.

The state’s largest fire, located about 20 miles east of the Big Sur fire in a more remote area of the Los Padres forest, also continued to vex firefighters, having scorched more than 92 square miles and destroyed two homes.

The blaze, sparked by an escaped campfire on June 8, was about 71 percent contained.

Monterey sheriff’s officials said mandatory evacuation orders were in place for both fires, but could not specify how many people were forced from their homes.

The governor also visited Butte County, where 27 lightning-sparked fires covering about 8 square miles were threatening 1,000 homes.

The blazes, which were only 5 percent contained, cropped up just as the county was recovering from a fire that charred 74 homes and 36 square miles earlier this month.

Fire crews from Nevada and Oregon have arrived to help California firefighters battle hundreds of blazes that are darkening skies over the San Francisco Bay area and Central Valley, causing public health officials to issue air-quality warnings.

Areas hit the hardest by the lightning storm also included Mendocino County, where 131 fires have burned more than 20 square miles and threatened about 500 homes, and the Shasta-Trinity Forest, where more than 150 fires have burned about 15.5 square miles and threatened 200 homes.


Associated Press writer Lisa Leff contributed to this story from San Francisco.

For more on the story, come back to throughout the day.

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