Schools keep kids indoors as smoke from Camp Fire spreads to Merced

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- Smoke from the Camp Fire, the deadliest in California history, has traveled to Merced County, darkening the skies and making the air dangerous to breathe.

The sky was overcast and air quality was at unhealthy levels on Tuesday, and Valley air officials said it could get worse.

"We anticipate and are anticipating as the days go on that the smoke will make its way down and tag every county on the way down," Cassandra Melching of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, told Action News.

Schools in the county moved to protect their students.

Merced City schools had red flag warnings posted at their campuses and kept students inside as much as possible.

"There was no recess, no outdoor lunch," said Sara Sandrik of the Merced City School District.

"We provided some indoor activities and had to cancel some outdoor sporting activities. Staff is monitoring any students that have respiratory sensitivity and our school nurses are on alert and ready if they have issues."

Employees with the Merced Union High School District said no changes had been made yet, but that they were continuously monitoring air quality and would alert parents through their website.

"We look at valleyair.Org to look at the alert status so we know if we need to postpone events, even lunchtime activities," said Sheryl Garmin of the Merced Union High School district. "If we need to, we keep kids inside or postpone or reschedule games."

Melching of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District said the smoke is still pretty high up in Merced, which is a good thing. However, she said an incoming high-pressure system could worsen the air quality and could keep that smoke in the area for a while.

"We have mountains to the east, west and south," she said.

"What that does is that it creates a bowl. Any time we get one of these forest fires that erupt, that pollution has nowhere to go."

The smoke could stay as long as the fire continues to burn, and air quality officials said it could even linger in the area when the fires go out. Residents, especially those with respiratory problems, were advised to avoid going outdoors as much as possible and remain in areas with cool, circulating air.
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