Wild­fire smoke reaches the East Coast

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS | WESTERN WILDFIRES - John Ba­con

AR­LING­TON, Va. – In­tense smoke from his­toric wild­fires that is fill­ing the lungs of mil­lions of Western­ers is cloud­ing skies across the na­tion.

Ac­cuWeather me­te­o­rol­o­gist Matt Benz said you can draw a line from Cal­i­for­nia through St. Louis and on to Nor­folk, Vir­ginia – pretty much ev­ery­place north of that line is look­ing at smoke-tainted skies.

Ar­eas south of that line see less smoke be­cause of air com­ing up from the Gulf.

“Amaz­ingly, that wild­fire smoke has trav­eled thou­sands of miles and fi­nally has reached the East,” Benz told USA TO­DAY. “It looks like clouds, but it is smoke. And we are stuck with this un­til the weather pat­tern changes.”

A weak cold front ex­pected to sweep through much of the East in com­ing days prob­a­bly won’t be enough to clear the air, Benz warned.

The up­side is that the smoke is so high in the East­ern sky that res­i­dents aren’t breath­ing it. That’s not the case along the fiery West Coast, where the fires have killed at least 36 peo­ple and burned through an area larger than the state of Con­necti­cut.

Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Gavin New­som com­pared breath­ing the air to smok­ing 20 packs of cig­a­rettes. The 7 mil­lion res­i­dents of Cen­tral Val­ley, a 450-mile-long swath of the state’s in­te­rior, were warned to stay in­doors to re­duce ex­po­sure to par­tic­u­late mat­ter emis­sions.

“No mat­ter which way the wind is blow­ing, the val­ley is get­ting smoke,” said Jonathan Klassen, di­rec­tor of air qual­ity science at San Joaquin Val­ley Air Pol­lu­tion Con­trol District. “The val­ley is sur­rounded by fire, so no mat­ter what hap­pens, we will get smoke.”

In Ore­gon, at least 10% of emer­gency room vis­its are for asthma-like symp­toms, said Gabriela Gold­farb, sec­tion man­ager of en­vi­ron­men­tal pub­lic health at the Ore­gon Health Au­thor­ity.

Ore­gon ranks air qual­ity as good, mod­er­ate, un­healthy for sen­si­tive groups, un­healthy, very un­healthy or haz­ardous.

Smoke lev­els fluc­tu­ate be­tween un­healthy and haz­ardous for Ore­gon and southwest Wash­ing­ton. When smoke lev­els are haz­ardous, ev­ery­one needs to pro­tect them­selves. Gold­farb urged peo­ple to stop work­ing out­doors when air qual­ity is un­healthy or worse.

The smoke from Cal­i­for­nia’s fires has reached Ari­zona, where Tuc­son in­ternist Matthew Heinz sees pa­tients com­plain­ing of breath­ing and other prob­lems.

“Even at this dis­tance, it can ag­gra­vate any­one who has un­der­ly­ing pul­monary con­di­tions, asthma, those kind of con­di­tions,” Heinz said.

Vi­sion can also be a prob­lem. Alaska Air­lines and Hori­zon Air sus­pended all flights to and from air­ports in Port­land, Ore­gon, and Spokane, Wash­ing­ton.

Crews in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia strug­gled to keep the Bob­cat Fire from reach­ing the his­toric Mount Wil­son Ob­ser­va­tory in Pasadena.

The ob­ser­va­tory played a piv­otal role in early 20th-cen­tury con­fir­ma­tion that gal­ax­ies ex­ist out­side the Milky Way and that the uni­verse is ex­pand­ing. In ad­di­tion to its famed 100-inch tele­scope, the peak has other his­toric tele­scopes, as well as modern as­tron­omy in­stru­ments in use.

The ob­ser­va­tory said Mon­day that all per­son­nel had been evac­u­ated.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­peated his claim this week that Demo­cratic lead­ers in Cal­i­for­nia de­serve blame for the fires, hav­ing failed to clear leaves and dead trees from for­est floors. Wally Cov­ing­ton, pro­fes­sor of forestry at North­ern Ari­zona Univer­sity, agreed that forests have be­come over­grown and need to be thinned, but “not with a lawn rake.”

Some of the poli­cies that led to over­grown forests, such as ag­gres­sive fire sup­pres­sion, were im­ple­mented more than 100 years ago, so blam­ing Cal­i­for­nia’s cur­rent lead­ers doesn’t make sense, Cov­ing­ton said.

He noted that two-thirds of the burned acreage is on fed­eral lands and not within the purview of state of­fi­cials. Cov­ing­ton said peo­ple liv­ing in ar­eas burn­ing are pay­ing the price be­cause pol­i­cy­mak­ers would not ad­dress cli­mate change and the ef­fects of fire sup­pres­sion on forests 30 or 40 years ago.

“Amongst fire sci­en­tists like my­self, we’ve been con­vinced that this train wreck was go­ing to hap­pen for years and years,” he said. “I was hope­ful back in the ’90s and ’80s that maybe we would re­verse cli­mate change ef­fects. Now I’m kind of pes­simistic.”

Con­tribut­ing: Re­becca Plevin, Palm Springs Desert Sun; Tracy Loew and Con­nor Rad­novich, Salem States­man Jour­nal; Joe Jac­quez, Sheyanne N. Romero and James Ward, Visalia Times-Delta; and Da­mon Arthur, Red­ding Record Search­light

ROB SCHU­MACHER/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

Flames burned through Fish­er­men’s Bend Recre­ation Site east of Salem, Ore.

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