July 31, 2017 – Plumas County Public Health and the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District are issuing a joint air quality advisory to notify the public of potentially poor air quality conditions at least through Wednesday, August 2, caused by the Minerva Fire south of Quincy in Plumas County (https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5434/).

For the next several days, Plumas County’s Air Quality will continue to shift as Fire Crews work to contain the Minerva Fire.  With smoke and ash visible it is important to remember that this can be hazardous to your health.  Exposure to elevated PM2.5 (fine particulate matter in smoke) concentrations can result in eye and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, congestion, coughing, impaired lung function and chest pain, especially among sensitive individuals such as the elderly, children, people with asthma, people with heart or lung conditions, pregnant women and anyone who is exercising or working hard outdoors.  Even the general public is encouraged to stay indoors and limit physical activity when they can see and smell smoke.

If you smell or see smoke around you, the following actions are recommended:

  • Minimize outdoor activities even if you are healthy;
  • Stay indoors with doors and windows closed as much as possible; run the air conditioner on the “recirculate” setting if that is an option;
  • People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan;
  • People with heart disease, respiratory or chronic health issues should stay indoors;
  • Contact your doctor if you have symptoms of cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, or severe fatigue.

Here is an easy way for the general public to assess risk with a visibility assessment:

CategoriesVisibility in Miles
Good11 miles and up
Moderate6 to 10
Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups3 to 5
Unhealthy1 ½ to 2 ¾
Very Unhealthy1 to 1 ¼
HazardousLess than 1 mile

When using the visibility index to determine smoke concentrations, it is important to:
• Face away from the sun.
• Determine the limit of your visibility range by looking for targets at known
distances (miles). The visible range is the point at which even high-contrast
objects (e.g., a dark forested mountain viewed against the sky at noon) totally disappear.

Smoke conditions can change quickly and vary greatly due to terrain, wind direction and weather.  Western parts of Plumas and Sierra Counties are likely to see the most smoke.  It is important to monitor the smoke and make outdoor plans accordingly.  A typical pattern is lifting of the smoke during the daylight hours and then settling down into ravines and valleys in the evening and nighttime as winds die down.

The use of filter masks is generally not recommended because the most effective masks can reduce air flow for people who are already having breathing difficulty.

On top of the air quality issue, temperatures throughout Plumas County communities are expected to reach above 90 degrees this week and into the weekend.  With a quick rise in temperatures, people are at increased risk of heat related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke, especially those who are more sensitive to heat. Make sure when you are indoors to utilize ways to keep cool like wet towels and fans if you do not have air conditioning.

Prolonged exposure to high temperatures may cause serious conditions like heat exhaustion or heat stroke and can even be fatal. Symptoms of heat exhaustion may include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, weakness, headache, nausea or vomiting and dizziness. At the first sign of heat exhaustion, move to a cool location, rest and drink fluids. Signs of heat stroke may include an extremely high body temperature, unconsciousness, confusion, hot and dry skin (no sweating), a rapid, strong pulse, and a throbbing headache. If signs of heat stroke occur, immediately call for medical assistance.

Recommended precautions to prevent heat related illnesses include:

  • Drink plenty of liquids; don’t wait until you are thirsty.
  • Wear light, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Stay out of the sun if possible, and when in the sun, wear a hat, preferably with a wide brim, and use sunscreen.
  • Avoid strenuous activities if you are outside or in non-air conditioned buildings. If you are working outdoors, take frequent rest and refreshment breaks in a shaded area.
  • Never leave children, elderly people or pets unattended in closed cars or other vehicles.
  • Check on those who are at high risk to make sure they are staying cool – including seniors who live alone, people with heart or lung disease, and young children.
  • Stay cool indoors – if your home is not air conditioned, visit public facilities such as stores or libraries to help stay cool.

For more information on heat related illnesses or health impacts due to smoke, contact Plumas County Public Health at 283-6330.

Information on air quality and smoke can be found at:

www.myairdistrict.com (PM – particulate matter hourly information)
http://californiasmokeinfo.blogspot.com/ (smoke information based on fire incidents)
https://airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=airnow.mapcenter&mapcenter=1 (PM and ozone combined)
https://airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=pubs.aqguidepart (air quality guide for particle pollution)