Rim Fire sends smoke to Valley floor -- Health caution through weekend for most of air basin

FRESNO, Calif.

The smoke many Valley residents saw and smelled Monday was attributed to the Rim Fire. A spokeswoman for the Valley Air District says if you can smell it, you're affected and should take precaution.

Jaime Holt, with the Valley Air District says, "We've actually had inspectors call in and let us know they are seeing it as they're doing their work, we've had a couple schools call us."

At first most everyone thought it was just an odd looking, discolored haze, one that, after a few hours started to fester and now, smell.

"Some reporting a streak of smoke going across the sky. That smoke from the Rim Fire, that's gonna come in and it will have nowhere to go and more will come in in the evening hours, it'll be closer to the Valley floor," Holt said.

For pilots at Chandler Airport in Southwest Fresno, it meant a change in direction.

Wayne Bush, a flight instructor at Chandler Airport, says "We thought we were just going to train, it looked like it was fairly benign, but as we got in, we thought we don't want to be breathing all of this, so we climbed up above it. " Bush had to fly 3,000 feet above the smoke.

"It was very thick, visibility was only five miles, usually it's clear and unlimited, in that area, when you get below five miles you start having trouble navigating by visual references on the ground," Bush said.

According to the Valley Air District, the stench and that smoke is only going to get thicker until we get a new weather pattern. "People may wake up in the morning might have sore throat, itchy eyes, runny nose, that's because the smoke is making its way down to the Valley floor."

Fresno Firefighters are also getting calls from people reporting thick smoke. After investigating, fire fighters were able to attribute a lot of those calls to the Rim Fire. Those with health issues are urged to take precautionary measures.

The Rim Fire in Tuolumne County has prompted local air officials to issue a health cautionary statement for smoke impacts in six Valley air basin counties: San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno and Tulare, especially the foothill and mountain areas. The caution is in place through Labor Day weekend, when visitors will be traveling to the Sierra Nevada.

If winds should shift, Kings and the Valley portion of Kern counties may become affected, as well.

"Our rule of thumb is, if you can see and smell smoke, you are probably being affected," said Samir Sheikh, the Air District's director of air quality analysis. In that event, air officials advise residents to take whatever health precautions their conditions warrant.

Smoke from fires produces fine-particulate matter (PM2.5), which can cause serious health problems including lung disease, asthma attacks and increased risk of heart attacks and stroke. Where conditions warrant, people with heart or lung disease should follow their doctors' advice for dealing with episodes of particulate exposure. Additionally, older adults and children should avoid prolonged exposure or heavy exertion, depending on their local conditions.

Residents can check the nearest air monitor to their location to determine localized air-quality conditions. Visit the Real-time Air Advisory Network page on the District's website to subscribe for free: http://www.valleyair.org/Programs/RAAN/raan_landing.htm. They can also receive updated fire information at: http://www.inciweb.org/incident/3552/.

For more information, visit www.valleyair.org or call a District office in Fresno (559-230-6000), Modesto (209-557-6400) or Bakersfield (661-381-1809).

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