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Camp Fire smoke rolls south, worsening air quality and prompting warnings to stay inside

Various views from space of California wildfires and their smoke

The Camp Fire and Woosley Fire and the smoke emanating from them are so intense that they can easily be seen from National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration satellites.
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The Camp Fire and Woosley Fire and the smoke emanating from them are so intense that they can easily be seen from National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration satellites.

People are urged to stay indoors as smoke from the Camp Fire is expected to linger over the Central Valley for awhile and the air quality could soon reach hazardous levels in Fresno.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District says schools and venues should reconsider hosting outdoor events. The California Interscholastic Federation canceled the weekend Northern California Regional Water Polo Championships in Clovis. Ironically, that event had been shuffled away from home sites because of air quality concerns.

Classes at UC Merced were canceled Thursday and Friday. The leadership at Fresno State is closely monitoring the air quality conditions, but classes haven’t been canceled.

Friday night high school football games went on as planned, and Fresno State said it expected to continue with Saturday night’s football game.

But to the north, two other Saturday college football games were affected: The Stanford at Cal “Big Game” was postponed until Dec. 1, and the Sacramento State at UC Davis “Causeway Classic” was moved to Reno.

Smoky air from the Camp Fire is evident in Fresno, looking north from the Stanislaus Street overpass, Friday afternoon, Nov. 16, 2018. JOHN WALKER

Cassandra Melching, an air district spokeswoman based in Fresno, said northern counties and communities, such as Stockton and Turlock, elevated to level 5 air quality Thursday night. A level 5 is when the air quality is at its worst and everyone is advised to avoid going outdoors.

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“Eventually, it’s going to move its way down to us,” Melching said of the hazardous air quality levels.

As of late Friday afternoon, the air quality for Fresno and Clovis had elevated to a level 4, up from where it was at a level 3 at midday. At a level 4, Melching said, everyone should avoid prolonged and rigorous outdoor activities.

A level 3 means the air quality is unhealthy for sensitive groups of people with certain respiratory illnesses.

The northern counties and communities north of Fresno were still at a level 5 as of late Friday afternoon, Melching said. And officials don’t expect that to change.

“It’s really bad,” she said.

No-burn day Saturday

The air district declared a no-burn day Saturday for all of its counties.

The Camp Fire, spreading over 142,000 acres, is only about 45 percent contained. To make matters worse, a high-pressure system sitting above the Central Valley will remain throughout the weekend, trapping smoke in the Valley, Melching said.

“The conditions will not be very healthy at all throughout the Central Valley,” she said, adding people should stay indoors and those with respiratory health conditions should stay in touch with their physicians.

People should keep an eye on the young and the elderly, as well, she said. Another tip: consider changing home and car air filters.

Anyone can check current conditions in their specific area on the air pollution control district’s website at

The sun sets over the Fresno Watertower in downtown, through smoky air from the Camp Fire, Friday afternoon, Nov. 16, 2018. JOHN WALKER

Air quality conditions in the Valley are not expected to improve until after the Camp Fire is completely extinguished.

“We still have a long, uphill battle with this,” Melching said.

The air district in a Friday news release said smoke from wildfires, such as the Camp Fire, “produces particulate matter which can trigger asthma attacks, aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases, and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.”

Fresno State spokeswoman Lisa Boyles said the campus leadership is closely monitoring the air quality conditions, but classes are still in session. Sporting events scheduled for Friday and over the weekend, such as the Bulldogs’ football game against San Diego State at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, are still on schedule.

“We are continuing to monitor things as they change,” she said.

Miguel Arias, spokesman with the Fresno Unified School District, said most of the school-site areas were at a level 4 on Friday afternoon. The school district only takes action when the areas hit a level 5, he said, but officials will continue to follow the situation closely.

“We have not taken any action to suspend or cancel any outdoor activities,” he said, though officials “have the ability to immediately cancel activities.”

Hopeful forecast

Jim Bagnall, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford, said the weather is going to be dry through Tuesday night. Though, that could change by mid-next week.

There’s “a little change coming up for us by around Tuesday night,” he said. “We’ll have a chance of rain by sunrise Wednesday morning. We’ll have a system that will be coming in, starting by Tuesday night, it will start to break down the high-pressure system.”

About a 40 percent chance of rain is in the forecast for the Merced area for Wednesday, and will be similar for Fresno, he said. Down in Bakersfield, the possibility of rain is at a 30 to 35 percent chance.

“That should be helpful in improving the air quality,” he said. “It could have a little bit of an effect or it could have a really good effect.”

He said weekend temperatures will top out at about 70 degrees Saturday and 68 Sunday, then begin to drop to the mid-60s by Wednesday, 61 on Thanksgiving Day and 59 on Friday.

Yesenia Amaro: 559-441-6144, @YeseniaAmaro