Smoke-filled skies trigger an air quality alert, but aid firefighters in Tulare County

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Call it a double-edged sword. The smoke in the air is creating a health warning for people in the Central Valley, but the hazy skies may also be doing some good for crews battling California wildfires.

"Foothill communities nearest the fires are experiencing the most intense smoke out there," said Heather Heinks, the outreach and communications manager for San Joaquin Valley Air District.

Up and down Highway 99, dark, cloudy skies coat much of the Central Valley.

Smoke from the Windy and KNP Complex fires burning in Tulare County has prompted officials in the San Joaquin Valley to issue an Air Quality Alert through Thursday.

Officials say the particulate matter in the air can trigger asthma attacks and can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

"It's so small that when you inhale, you breathe it in, you take it into your lungs and then it enters your blood stream through you lungs and it's foreign matter. It shouldn't be in your body." Heinks said.

The smoke from the fire is visible from space. Wednesday, Valley Air officials were warning people in the hardest hit places to stay indoors as much as possible.

While the smoky conditions are creating potential health issues, on the fire front, the hazy skies can actually help.

"When there's an inversion, it greatly reduces fire behavior due to, you know, there's not sun directly on the fuels," said Ariane Sarzotti with the National Parks Service.

Monday, sunlight hit an area of the KNP Complex Fire, creating extreme fire behavior and allowing the fire to make a run north.

While a major weather system could clear the skies in the Central California, it would also fuel the flames firefighters are trying to keep under control.

"It's a double-edged sword when we are hearing that we're going to have more wind on the fire, then, for us, that's going to be clearer air, but, unfortunately, that does increase fire behavior," said Sarzotti.

Valley air experts say they expect to see improvements to the air quality in the coming days and the North Valley, furthest from the fires, will likely see them first.

"Hopefully by Wednesday afternoon and definitely by Thursday, we should see some marked improvement," Heinks said.

While we may see some relief in the coming days, how long it will last will depend on fire behavior and any future weather systems.

For more information on air quality, you can find that here:

You can check the air quality in your zip code or city by clicking here.

You can see how much particulate matter is in the air near you, hour-by-hour, by clicking here.

You can see which fires are impacting air quality in the San Joaquin Valley by clicking here.

You can see current fire and smoke across the state by clicking here.

You can find the smoke outlook for the KNP Complex Fire by clicking here.

You can find the smoke outlook for the Windy Fire by clicking here.

You can find more information including what the air quality is like where you live hour-by-hour and more information on the smoke outlooks by heading to our website ABC30.com.
Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.