The long-burning Soberanes Fire along the Central Coast sullied air quality Tuesday in Merced County, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District reported.
Air quality became “unhealthy for sensitive groups” on Friday and continued reaching that level through Tuesday, according to the Real-Time Air Advisory Network. Sensitive groups are considered to be anyone with breathing or lung problems.
“Air quality took a hit,” Anthony Presto, outreach and communication representative for the air district, said. “It was a hot stagnant summer day and we’re seeing some impacts with fires around the Valley.”
It is unclear whether or not the wildfires impacted air quality over the weekend, Presto said, adding that there needs to be more analysis to determine that.
The Soberanes Fire has been burning near Big Sur for almost two months and is 67 percent contained, meaning there could be weeks left until the fire is out.
The more emissions the Soberanes Fire releases, in addition to the hot weather and ozone pollutants, the worse air quality becomes, Presto said. Ozone pollutants are gases emitted from cars, trucks and machinery.
With declining temperatures Thursday, Presto said air quality is expected to return to healthy levels.
According to the National Weather Service, temperatures Wednesday will be in the high 80s, and in the high 70s Thursday. The rest of the week is expected to remain in the 80s.
If residents see or smell smoke, they are advised to go indoors, where the air is filtered and air-conditioned, Presto said.
“We encourage residents to use their eyes and nose as detectors for smoke,” Presto said.
Merced residents facing respiratory problems are advised by the air district to exercise indoors and reduce rigorous exercise to 30 minutes. Keeping windows closed and driving less are things residents can do to reduce exposure and emissions, Presto said.
Wildfires produce fine particulate matter that is small enough to enter the lungs and bloodstream, increasing the risk of strokes and heart attacks, he said. Ash is another material wildfires release, Presto said, adding that fine particulate matter “is worse for you than ash.”
The Soberanes Fire was reported by the National Interagency Fire Center to be one of the costliest fires in U.S history as of Monday, so far costing $206.7 million. It has burned more than 121,050 acres.