Air quality concerns in California due to raging wildfires


NAPA, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 24: Utility workers survey the damage a mobile home park that was destroyed by the LNU Lightning Complex fire on August 24, 2020 in Napa, California. The LNU Lightning Complex fire is spread over 5 counties and has burned over 350,000 acres. The massive wildfire has destroyed at least 870 structures and is twenty two percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

FRESNO, Calif. (NewsNation) — All over the West, unhealthy air is a concern due to hundreds of wildfires, along with extreme heat, shifting winds and coronavirus.

The fires kept burning, the smoke kept billowing, and in large swaths of the West, the air was getting unhealthier by the hour on Monday. The risk is highest in Central and Northern California, and the unhealthy air is drifting East.

In Fresno, the danger was evident with polluted air covering all neighborhoods on Monday.

The danger from microparticles is present even when the air may seem clear, according to Dr. Reza Ronaghi, a pulmonary expert at UCLA Medical Center.

“It’s dangerous for everybody,” he said. “People with lung disease have a higher risk to get exacerbations and have more lung disease by these fires. However, with enough exposure, even the healthiest person can end up developing some side effects from these fires and these microparticles.”

The worst of the fires continue to burn in the Bay Area where flames have ravaged more than 1.2 million acres. A number of smaller wildfires have been burning for weeks in Southern California where air quality is always a concern.

Maria Trujillo is a Santa Clarita resident who lives near the Elsmere Fire. She is already masked and worried about COVID-19.

“Wearing a mask and all that stuff, it’s harder to breathe and with the air quality, it makes it worse,” Trujillo said.

Of note are the thousands of essential farmworkers and others who work outdoors despite the unhealthy air.

Ronaghi said masking does not necessarily protect people from both current health threats.

“The typical masks that we see people wearing, the bandannas, homemade masks, they’re better than nothing, they will help some. However, they’re not going to be very effective in keeping those microparticles out,” he said.

Air Quality Map (Environmental Protection Agency)

With fire season expected to get even worse in the weeks ahead, Ronaghi advised people in high-risk areas to make sure window seals are tight and to stay indoors as much as possible.

Prolonged exposure to microparticles can lead to persistent coughing, vision problems and they can even trigger a heart attack or stroke.

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