Avoiding the Smoky Air
It took another step toward becoming unbearable. No thanks to a thunderstorm in Truckee, smoke from the fuel-rich fire to our west got an extra push into the Truckee Meadows for the greyest of days. It left us with one deep-fog-like Monday. Out at the Sparks Marina it was even hard to make out Mount Rose. It also left the typically active Marina Park a bit lonely…quiet, except for a cough or 2.
Michelle Guinan was the lone figure we saw walking around the water. She told us the air "is like smoking a pack of cigarettes, and I've never smoked in my life. We're choking on it." Michelle picked the health benefits of a brisk walk over the unhealthy air. On this Monday, the marina was all hers. Her husband Howard, paddling his kayak in the water, didn't have to worry about bumping into anyone either.
But it was too much for the marina regulars...and too much for the very young. At the Washoe County School District's Student Health Services, director Dana Balchunas told us the smoke is a bigger risk to children: "Their airways are tinier. They tend to not be as aware of their limits and boundaries. They're very active at recess."
Which is why Dana made an unusual decision on a dry day: to move all school recesses out of the playgrounds, and into the auditoriums. We saw the change at Robert Mitchell Elementary in Sparks. Outside their busy auditorium, Principal Meredith Johnson told us, "Right now they're watching 'What About Oceans.' We had to scramble, we had to find that movie quickly."
Meredith can't remember any other time recess was moved inside because of smoke. As she told us, "It would have had to have been a morning where there was snow or pouring down rain, but not for smoke. No. No I can't think of a time."
She hopes the kids can play outside Tuesday. Back at Sparks Marina, Michelle makes the most of the eye-stinging breeze. On this day, she's thankful for the little things: "When somebody walks by with perfume, it's kind of nice. It's a nice, fresher smell."
The Washoe County Health District says the smoke from the American Fire near Lake Tahoe is creating unhealthy air quality conditions.
It released this message Monday afternoon:
Unusually sensitive people should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion. Smoke from the American Fire in California continues to impact Washoe County. We are currently in the mid range of the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups for the Reno/Sparks area with other portions of Washoe County experiencing higher concentrations. Due to the nature of the fire, rapid changes could result in elevated levels of fine particulates with any changes in wind direction or fire activity. Early mornings and evening hours have had the highest concentrations with this fire with some relief during the afternoon. If you feel the smoke is affecting you, remain indoors with the windows closed and air conditioning on and reduce prolonged or heavy exertion while outdoors.
Visit www.ourcleanair.com for additional air quality information or call the Air Quality Hotline at 785-4110.
All Washoe County schools will hold indoor recesses today because of the smoke. Principals are being advised that they may, at their discretion, allow students to participate in outdoor aerobic activities. Also, athletic coordinators and coaches have been advised that athletic practices and trainings will go on with some precautions in place - namely, athletes and staff are permitted to practice outdoors with the exclusion of any extended or heavy condition drills. Conditioning drills included in practice plans should be moved to an indoor location.
Smoke is also anticipated to be a significant issue for the Sierra Foothills, Tahoe area, and Sacramento Valley.
As for the American Fire, it's now more than 14,700 acres large and is 49% contained. It started Saturday, August 10th, 30 miles west of Lake Tahoe in the Deadwood Range, northeast of Forest Hill in the Tahoe National Forest.
Fire crews report the blaze is burning in heavy fuels on very steep slopes. More than 1,850 personnel are working to contain the blaze.
The wildfire remains under investigation.
The fire has destroyed three outbuildings.
A public meeting is scheduled for 7pm Monday at the Foresthill Veteran's Memorial Hall at 24601 Harrison Street in Foresthill.
The Robinson Flat Campground is closed. The Tahoe National Forest has issued a voluntary evacuation notice for Big Oak Flat located near the south end of the fire. Forest Road 43 (Robinson Flat Road) is closed at its intersection with Forest Road 96 (Mosquito Ridge Road).
An emergency closure order is in place for portions of National Forest System lands within and adjacent to the American Fire. A map and description of the closed area can be obtained at Tahoe National Forest offices as well as online at http://www.fs.usda.gov/tahoe. Portions of the Foresthill Divide road are closed.
A Type I incident managment team (IMT) will assume command of the fire the morning of August 19. Full suppression efforts remain in progress.
Thunderstorms predicted over the next few days may bring additional complexity and increase the potential for new starts. The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning beginning Monday morning, August 19, through Wednesday evening, August 21. Changing weather patterns are likely to affect fire behavior and smoke dispersal patterns.
(John Potter, The U.S. Forest Service contributed to this report.)