Wildfire threatens local air quality, officials say

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comMay 4, 2013 

MERCED -- California's wildfire season is back, and it could result in air quality issues for Merced County.

A 6,400-acre fire smoldering in Tehama County on Friday could be the cause of a brown haze blanketing the Central Valley, according to valley air officials.

"We're seeing some isolated impact from some of the grass fires that are burning," said Jaime Holt, spokeswoman for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

Holt said the air in Merced County on Friday was at the "yellow" level, which is moderate. Today's air quality is expected to be moderate, according to Holt.

"We're not seeing that brown haze come down to ground level right now, so it's not an air quality issue yet," she said. "But we are watching ... to make sure that doesn't change.

The combination of warmer temperatures and little wind can play a part in air quality, said Modesto Vasquez, meteorologist at The National Weather Serv-ice in Hanford.

"Every time we get a ridge of high pressure nearby or over the area, it causes stagnant weather conditions," Vasquez said. "That puts a lid on the atmosphere and keeps winds from mixing."

Vasquez said there was little wind in the forecast today but predicted an increase by Sunday. "Hopefully, we'll see the air quality improve ... as those winds materialize," he said.

Air district officials said residents can do a few things to spare the air, especially as pollution levels rise amid warmer temperatures.

"We ask people to drive less and not idle their vehicles," Holt said. "If they're using lawn-care equipment, try to use electric or clean-burning equipment."

Today's high is expected to be 92 degrees, Vasquez said, but Sunday will cool down to 83. Monday's high should be 77 degrees with potential thunderstorms Monday afternoon, he added.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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