Air quality alerts issued as fire haze approaches coastal areas

Air quality alerts issued as fire haze approaches coastal areas

9 July 2008

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USA — Northern California fire crews battled both fatigue and flames Tuesday, as they attempted to control a number of blazes while temperatures soared.

”It’s like an oven outside, so it’s not really helping us in our efforts to contain these fires,” said Tom McCampbell, fire information officer for the Ukonom Complex Fire, which had two separate fires burning across more than 10,000 acres of land near Orleans as of Tuesday afternoon, with more than 300 firefighters battling the blazes.

McCampbell said the 112-degree temperatures in the area Tuesday were responsible for both aiding the fires and hampering fire crews fighting the Merrill and Jake fires, which comprise the Ukonom Complex Fire.

”The fuels are tinder-dry, so ignition points here are higher and the rates of ignition are higher — any ember has the potential to spot and start a little fire,” McCampbell said. “Extreme heat is also very difficult on the fire crews. It’s just a steep, uphill battle here with the weather.”

As of Tuesday morning, the Merrill Fire had burnt more than 6,000 acres and was only 20 percent contained while the Jake Fire had burnt nearly 4,000 acres and was only four percent contained, according to a press release.

Because of the fires, Salmon River Road will be closed indefinitely to all but firefighter and local traffic due to falling rocks and other materials.

To the south of the Ukonom Complex Fire, the Hells Half Complex Fire had grown to almost 4,000 acres as of Tuesday morning, when fire crews reported it was 54 percent contained. Gary Hoshide, a public information officer at the Hells Half Complex Fire information office, said heavy amounts of smoke in the area had created some cover Tuesday and kept temperatures down, making it easier for crews to fight the fires.

The Trinity County Sheriff’s Department advised residents of Denny, Trinity Village and Hawkins Bar Tuesday to prepare for possible evacuations while it has called mandatory evacuations for residents of Fisher Road in Hawkins Bar from Colony up to the end of Fisher Road. Denny Road has also been closed to all except residents.

Meanwhile, a lot of progress has been made on the Mad Complex fires, which once consisted of 35 fires but has now been 90 percent contained. Firefighters estimate the entire complex will be contained by Thursday, according to a press release from Six Rivers National Forest.

The North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District issued an air quality alert Tuesday morning for the areas of Somes Bar, Orleans, Weitchpec, Hoopa, Willow Creek, Burnt Ranch, Junction City, Helena, Big Bear, Big Flat, Hayfork, Hyampom, Kettenpom and Ruth. The district deemed smoke levels in the areas to be “very unhealthy,” and recommends everyone limit their activity and stay indoors.

The district also issued a public service announcement for Humboldt and Del Norte counties, saying a smoky haze was expected to reach the coast Tuesday.

Nancy Diamond, the district’s acting air pollution control officer, said people in the impacted areas should be cautious.

”Basically, what we’re saying is that if you’re at risk — if you’re elderly, young or have health problems — then you should try to minimize your smoke exposure by doing things like staying indoors, minimizing outdoor activities and using your air conditioner on the recalculate setting,” Diamond said, adding that those experiencing respiratory problems or symptoms of lung or heart disease should contact their health care providers.

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