Wildfires to the north causing unhealthy air in Kern County

Wildfires to the north causing unhealthy air in Kern County »Play Video
Smoke from wildfires to the north impact air quality Wednesday, July 31, 2013, in Bakersfield, Calif.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Air quality authorities say smoke from a wildfire east of Fresno and wildfires in Northern California and Oregon has the potential to cause serious health problems for people living in parts of California's Central Valley.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District issued a health cautionary statement on Tuesday for the entire air basin. The air is described as unhealthy for sensitive groups in Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties, as well as Sequoia National Park.

"We're experiencing a level of smoke that's basically settling in the Valley from the wildfires in the area," district spokeswoman Heather Heinks told Eyewitness News. "And, unfortunately we've got a little bit of a stagnant  meteorological pattern that's keeping it here."

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That's why the air district is out with what they call a "health caution." That's to alert the public so people can take precautions, Heinks said. "They need to try and eliminate prolonged exposure outside."

Heinks said the public can go to the air district website to get current data about air pollution in their specific area. She said people can go to www.valleyair.org, and look for RAAN, "Real-time Air Advisory Network.

It's free, users can request automated notification when air quality is poor, and also get health guidelines for outdoor exercise. "They can plug into the (air) monitor that's nearest to them." Heinks explained.

Meanwhile, an Eyewitness News viewer is worried about another type of air pollution: dust. He snapped photos near the coroner of White Lane and Buena Vista of a tractor in a field, and clouds of dust kicked up in the air.

"Now we're talking about fugitive dust, larger particulate matter, bigger pieces of dust," Heinks said. "If their business is going to generate enough, then they absolutely need a fugitive dust plan." Those plans can include requirements like using water or oil to keep the dust down.

She said operations like construction or agriculture come under air district rules to deal with dust,  It's not clear who is running the operation with the tractors which the viewer spotted on Wednesday morning.

Heinks also said the district welcomes calls from the public, and staff will investigate those complaints. The public can call 1-800-926-5550 to report air quality problems.

"Your viewers are our best eyes and ears to be able to educate these businesses, these agencies, that are producing dust that you're seeing," Heinks said. "So we can get them on track with a fugitive dust plan."

But, the current health caution advisory is based on the amount of wildfire smoke that's now spread into the Central Valley.

Officials say the Aspen Fire in the Sierra National Forest about 75 miles northeast of Fresno is contributing to the smoky air. The fire near Shaver Lake has consumed more than 21 square miles. It is 35 percent contained.

Fires produce fine particulate matter that can contribute to asthma attacks. That's why experts want the public to be aware of the current conditions, and what they can do about it.

"In general, for the next several days -- use health caution, and try your best to stay indoors," Heinks advises. "Stay hydrated, and check on those individuals that have respiratory issues."