Smoke trapped in the Redding area generates some of the worst air quality in the country
With wildfires burning in numerous locations throughout the region, Redding and other parts of the North State are enduring some of the worst air quality in the nation.
On Tuesday afternoon, the air quality reached "hazardous" levels west of Redding. One air quality reading off Rock Creek Road west of Redding was 323 on the air quality index, according to AirNow, a federal government website.
Anything above 151 is considered unhealthy to the general public, according to AirNow. An air quality rating above 300 is considered hazardous and is considered "a health warning of emergency conditions: Everyone is more likely to be affected," according to AirNow.
The air quality rating at Whiskeytown Lake was 459 Tuesday afternoon. A reading of 469 was recorded Monday afternoon in Etna in Siskiyou County, but by Tuesday, the air in the Scott Valley community was ranked 51, a "moderate" ranking.
Shasta County air quality officials and National Weather Service officials said the problem will continue this week as wildfires continue to burn in the mountains to the north, southeast and west of Redding.
More than 1.3 million acres from several fires burning just in the North State alone. That does not include the Caldor Fire, which has burned more than 186,000 acres southwest of Lake Tahoe as of Tuesday morning.
While dozens of fires burned across the West, from Washington and Idaho to Arizona, only the North State and the Lake Tahoe area on Monday afternoon included clusters of air quality in the "hazardous range."
Sierra Littlefield, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said a combination of factors, including geography and winds from the southwest, create conditions where where smoke tends to accumulate in the Redding area.
Because Redding is at the head of the Sacramento Valley and is surrounded by mountains, it is hard to get smoke out of the area once it gets blown in.
And conditions are not likely to improve as the week goes on, said John Waldrop, Shasta County Air Quality District manager.
"This week is not looking that great for clearing out smoke. We may have short periods in the afternoons, in some areas, that will drop down into the 'unhealthy for sensitive individuals' category," Waldrop said in an email.
"Otherwise, due to so much smoke being trapped in the Sacramento Valley, coupled with increased smoke production, it is estimated that smoke levels will remain unhealthy to hazardous in many areas of Shasta County, especially the western side where smoke is being pumped in from the fires to the north and west," he said.
Air quality officials say that when the smoke gets bad people should try to stay indoors and avoid outdoor activities.
Air pollution taken farther to the east were lower than those west of Redding. The air quality level recorded near Interstate 5 and Highway 299 was 126 on Tuesday afternoon, a ranking considered "unhealthy for sensitive groups."
Littlefield said it takes strong breezes to blow the smoke out of the Redding area.
"There's so much smoke in the air mass over Northern California that it's going take some time to get some good clearing on that," Littlefield said.
"But slowly, gradually over the course of the week, we'll likely trend better from what we have," she said. But the winds that blow away the smoke could also make the fires burn hotter, she said.
"And then also, unfortunately, it's kind of a double-edged sword, the more air flow we get the more smoke will be produced," Littlefield said.
Damon Arthur is the Record Searchlight’s resources and environment reporter. He is among the first on the scene at breaking news incidents, reporting real time on Twitter at @damonarthur_RS. Damon is part of a dedicated team of journalists who investigate wrongdoing and find the unheard voices to tell the stories of the North State. He welcomes story tips at 530-338-8834 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today!