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Siskiyou County declares local emergency due to poor air quality

Kelsey Shelton
Mount Shasta Herald
The EPA's AirNow air quality map shows unhealthy (red), to very unhealthy (purple), to hazardous (maroon) pollution levels in the Western United States. Air pollution in Redding dropped from very unhealthy to unhealthy levels around 10:30 a.m. Monday.

The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday declared a local health emergency due to hazardous air quality from wildfires burning across the state. 

The Slater Fire, which tore through the Happy Camp community on Sept. 8, destroying more than 150 homes and killing two people, as well as the Devil Fire, the Red Salmon Complex and several smaller fires have consistently pushed Siskiyou County’s air quality into the “unhealthy” to “very unhealthy” ranges over the past week, according to the EPA’s AirNow air quality index.

In conjunction with this proclamation, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the sending of a letter to Reynolds Resorts, LLC, owners of Lake Siskiyou Camp Resort, asking them to prohibit campfires while air quality is suffering.

Reynolds Resorts is based in Laguna Beach and also operates five other campgrounds in California.

The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors during their meeting on Sept. 1, 2020.

In the letter, county requests that the campground prohibit campfires for the duration of the county’s air quality health alert.

The supervisors also pointed to CAL FIRE-issued red flag warnings and the extreme fire danger.

Right now, “we (Siskiyou County) have really crappy air,” said Siskiyou County air pollution control office Jim Smith in a separate interview about air quality. “In places, it has been very hazardous since the Red Salmon Fire started.”

More:Smoke pushes Siskiyou County air pollution levels to 'very unhealthy' Monday morning

People should avoid areas with active fires throughout the North State, like Happy Camp, Smith said.

The EPA’s AirNow air quality map shows unhealthy (red), to very unhealthy (purple), to hazardous (maroon) pollution levels in the Western United States. Air pollution in Redding dropped from very unhealthy to unhealthy levels around 10:30 a.m. Monday.

Gusty winds, predicted through Thursday, may help clear the air a bit this week, according to a forecast from the National Weather Service in Sacramento. But those same winds, together with dry fuels, could spread current fires and enable the start and spread of new ones.

Until the smoke clears and air quality improves, people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly, pregnant women and children should reduce their time, and avoid when possible, going outside, the advisory said. Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion. When possible:

• Limit exercise and outdoor activities.

• Remain indoors with the windows and doors closed.

• Turn on an air conditioner with a recirculation setting, such as in a vehicle.

Siskiyou County has permanent monitors in Yreka and Mount Shasta and there are numerous portable sensors positioned throughout the areas.

Other states with fires burning have the same problem, Smith said. An air quality advisory is in effect for the entire state of Oregon through Thursday.

EPA's Air Quality Index (AQI): Each of the six categories represents a different level of  pollution and its corresponding health concerns. Each category has a corresponding color to help people see their air quality on the AirNow Fire and Smoke Map at https://bit.ly/33fl6Bb.

Smoke from wildfires in the Western United States has spread, raising pollution levels as far as the Great Lakes region, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

As of Saturday afternoon, wildfire smoke reached as far east as Michigan, according to satellite imagery taken by NWS meteorologists in Maryland and posted on Twitter. 

During Tuesday’s meeting, District 2 Supervisor Ed Valenzuela said he’s glad the county is being proactive by issuing the local health emergency proclamation and asking the campground to prohibit campfires. His district encompasses Lake Siskiyou and the campground.

“With all that is going on, it is prudent to get the Reynolds’ attention due to the concern about fires,” Valenzuela said.

District 1 Supervisor Brandon Criss said he believes the prohibition of fires during red flag warnings “should become standard practice,” and supported the issuing of the letter. 

At the end of discussion, Valenzuela moved to approve, with Criss seconding,  and supervisors Haupt and Nixon voting aye in support. District 3 Supervisor Michael Kobseff was  absent from Tuesday’s meeting.