Poor air quality caused by the wildfires burning in California have led Merced County school officials to cancel classes or keep students inside as much as possible.
Schools across the county have been on modified schedules based on recommendations from the Merced County Department of Public Health, according to a news release. The schedules continued on Friday, the last day of school for most districts before Thanksgiving break.
The Camp Fire in Butte County is now California’s deadliest and most destructive blaze; Cal fire reported that the blaze has burned 140,000 acres — nearly 219 square miles — and is 45 percent contained. More than 52,000 people have been evacuated, 8,756 homes have been destroyed and 15,500 remain threatened.
Officials say it has also worsened the San Joaquin Valley’s notoriously bad air. The Merced County air quality index reached 165 at noon on Friday, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Any score over 150 triggers health warnings to the most vulnerable populations.
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The most severe smoke impacts are expected in the northern counties of San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced, according to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. The alert will remain in place until the fires are extinguished, officials said.
Many families count on schools to provide students with a safe and supervised environment, according to Merced County Superintendent of Schools Steve Tietjen.
“We take this responsibility seriously and are working closely with the Merced County Department of Public Health,” he said in a statement. “At the recommendation of the Department of Public Health, we will continue to keep all activities indoors.”
School officials have been monitoring local air quality and have directed all outdoor classes, activities and sporting events indoors, the release said. Some sporting events have been rescheduled.
Merced Union High School District tweeted that its schools are equipped with air filters that protect students. Classes continued on Friday, though students were encouraged to spend lunch inside. A number of practices and games were canceled, officials said.
UC Merced canceled classes on Thursday and Friday.
“Our thoughts are with the many people affected by fires throughout the state, especially our students and their families and friends impacted by this disaster,” Chancellor Dorothy Leland said in a statement.
Some tips to stay safe from poor air quality:
• Minimize or stop outdoor activities.
• Stay indoors with windows and doors closed.
• Keep vehicle windows and vents closed.
Check local air quality here.
The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.