Earth Log: Would the Valley's major cities fit into Rim fire footprint?

The Fresno BeeOctober 1, 2013 

The 6-week-old Rim fire is winding down, now 92% contained at a cost of nearly $126 million. The number that continues to capture the imagination is the acreage.

What does 257,135 acres look like?

Mono Lake, on the east side of the Sierra, has a footprint of 45,000 acres. Lake Tahoe is about 122,000 acres. Those aren't bad comparisons if you've seen those lakes or if you've looked at satellite images.

News reporters have resorted to other comparisons. I recently heard a television news reporter say the Rim fire is one-third the size of Rhode Island. Others compare it to the area of Los Angeles or San Francisco.

So this is my attempt to put the San Joaquin Valley into this picture. Would the Valley's major cities, including Fresno, Bakersfield, Stockton, Modesto and Visalia, fit into this fire's footprint?

Yes, and you'd have a few thousand acres to spare.

As a side note, Bakersfield has the largest physical footprint for a city in the Valley. It is 146.6 square miles, according to the U.S. Census. Fresno, which has a larger population than Bakersfield, is 112.3 square miles.

The Rim fire is 402 square miles, making it the third-largest fire on record in California. And it is still burning slowly, but the changing seasons in the Sierra probably will snuff it out soon.

The other ozone standard

My Sunday story dwelled on the old one-hour ozone standard. The San Joaquin Valley appears poised to achieve it, and air-quality leaders say it will wipe out a $29 million annual federal penalty for this region.

The ozone problem is slowly getting cleaned up in the Valley, but the one-hour standard isn't the only threshold. What about the tougher, more health-protective eight-hour standard?

It looks like this could be a record-setting year for it, though it's a pretty minor record in the big picture. At the same time, it's an important step, and I'll tell you why in a minute.

First, the numbers: If we have six or fewer October or November exceedances for this eight-hour standard, it would be the lowest total ever recorded here.

The Valley has 86 exceedances as of Sunday. The record is 93 set in 2010.

Over the last five years, the Valley has averaged a little more than six October exceedances per year — ranging from only two in 2009 to nine in 2011. There have only been two exceedances in November over the last five years combined. There's a chance the record could be set.

It's important because we're talking about human health. The threshold spans eight hours, which is a long time. It's hard to prevent children or anyone else from being exposed to it at some point during a bad day.

Ozone is a corrosive gas that can scorch the lungs like a sunburn. Aside from triggering coughing and wheezing, it can cause heart arrhythmia that can lead to stroke.

Dozens of people die prematurely in the Valley each year due to ozone exposure, studies have shown.

Bottom line, this is a dangerous air pollutant. The Valley is still many years away from achieving the eight-hour standard for it.

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