Photo by Project LM via Flickr Creative Commons

California Wildfires Affect Air Quality in the Valley

By Eduardo Stanley

Wildfires are becoming more common and more dangerous in California, destroying communities and polluting the air we breath. While there weren’t any big fires in the Central Valley last summer, the air quality was affected by the wildfires in Southern and Northern California, hundreds of miles away.

This happened because of the air bringing in the smoky-air from those areas and because the Valley is surrounded by mountains trapping that dense air.

Smoke can travel far, explained John Upton, editor of Climate Central (www.climatecentral.org), a nonprofit organization that communicates climate change science, effects and solutions to the public and decision makers. He made a presentation last Oct. 28 in Fresno to explain the consequences of climate change in our daily lives.

In relation to the wildfires, Upton expressed that the season is growing longer each year and that climate change contributes to warmer days, which in turn help fires to spread.

“The fuel is dangerous [and] can catch fire easily,” said Upton. “Fuel is built by dry leaves, pine cones and other things in our forests that can burn fast and out of control.”

Human activities are also responsible for fires, like smoking and BBQing, and living in dangerous places—close to forests.

According to Upton, because of the climate change, we have hotter summers with very dry atmosphere and little humidity in the soil, setting dangerous “fire-friendly” conditions.

And these conditions help fires to produce a more dense, heavy smoke that travels away affecting thousands of people.

“When the air condition is very bad people should stay inside their houses,” said Nayamin Martinez, director of the Central California Environmental Justice Network of Fresno. “However, thousands of people can’t, they are those who work outside, like farmworkers, landscapers, construction workers.”

While there are special masks workers can use to protect themselves, air pollution still can seriously affect people’s health.

“Smoke carries small particles that could get into our bloodstream and from there could affect our organs,” said Upton. “There is a strong relationship between the chemicals present in the smoke produced by fires and several illnesses.”

Porfirio Hernandez, a farmworker in Madera County, is aware of the air contamination. “Sometimes the sky changes its color and my eyes itch,” he said.

Although it is difficult to prevent wildfires, California is considering several measures in this regard.

*****

Eduardo Stanley is the editor of the Community Alliance newspaper.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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