When Los Banos High athletic director Joseph Barcellos arrived at the Western Athletic Conference league meeting in Turlock on Wednesday morning everything looked normal outside.
That wasn’t the case when he left two hours later at 11 a.m.
“Everything was great when we got there,” Barcellos said. “When we stepped outside it was like, ‘What the heck is going on?’”
Barcellos emerged to see the smoky, hazy air that had overtaken the sky.
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At around 11 a.m., the air quality index was at level 5, which suggests people should avoid outside activities. The poor air quality forced area high schools to cancel all outdoor games and practices on Wednesday. All outdoor sporting events were canceled by Merced Union High School District schools.
“Once the air quality reached a level five all outdoor activities had to be canceled,” said Golden Valley athletic director Matt Thissen.
The smoke seen in Merced County is from all the fires burning in Northern California.
The Tubbs Fire in Napa County burned 27,000 acres as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the CalFire website. Also in Napa County, the Atlas Fire spread to 25,000 acres and the Patrick Fire burned up 1,000 acres. All three fires were burning out of control Tuesday, as were at least two other fires in Sonoma County.
A health caution was also issued Valley-wide on this by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District as smoke from the wildfires blazing around California drifted into Merced and surrounding areas.
Water polo, cross country and golf matches were postponed around Merced County. Many football teams are forced to practice indoors if there is a gym available or watch film.
“We’re working on that right now,” said Buhach Colony football coach Kevin Navarra. “I’m going to meet with our athletic director (Rich Cometta) to see if we have the option of coming back here in the evening. If not, we’ll just have film session. We don’t have access to the gym. We’ll have to be creative and utilize the film time in smaller groups.”
Some football teams like Merced and Los Banos practice at night on Wednesdays. They were unsure if the air quality will change this evening.
“Fortunately for us, we don’t start until 5:30 in the weight room,” said Merced coach Rob Scheidt. “We will check the air quality at that point and see where we’re at and make a decision. If we’re at a level four or above we can’t practice.”
Many school districts canceled outdoor games on Wednesday throughout the Sac-Joaquin Section including Modesto City Schools, Modesto Christian School, Elk Grove Unified School District, San Juan Unified School District and Fairfield-Suisun School District. The Napa Valley Unified School District has canceled all activities for the week.
“Luckily for us it was a light day,” said El Capitan athletic director Lou Souza. “We just had water polo and golf.”
Barcellos said he had a busy morning on the phone.
“You’ve got to deal with transportation, bus drivers, officials,” Barcellos said. “We know we’re not the only ones canceling games. So you want to be able to get a hold of officials so you can reschedule the games. I have volunteers that help with the cross country. I want to make sure I don’t forget anyone. There were a lot of phone calls today.”