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Billowing smoke from this year’s historic wildfire season in California has caused hazardous air conditions across the state, prompting air quality alerts and forcing many residents to take refuge indoors to avoid unhealthy exposure to bad air.
Hazy skies and thick, smoky air aren’t just symptoms of the fire — they present their own dangers, even when wildfires themselves remain very far away. Poor air quality can have disastrous effects on people’s health: like coughing, sore throats, extreme wheezing among people with respiratory disease, and cardiovascular illness. Prolonged exposure to bad air can even work its way into your lungs and blood stream.
Conditions in the San Joaquin Valley are particularly bad because of the natural geography and weather patterns of the region, experts say, even though the state’s major fires are elsewhere. As smoke drifts into the valley, mountains and the climate trap the pollution, which then gets pushed toward the ground because of the heat. Currently the Ferguson Fire and the Mendocino Complex Fires are dumping smoke into the region.
“A good analogy is a clogged bathtub. You’re just putting more and more pollution into a limited space and it’s getting more concentrated, more concentrated, more concentrated,” said Jamie Holt of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
“We don’t create more pollution than other parts of the country, we actually create a lot less pollution,” she added. “But because we have this topography and meteorology, we have less ability to clear the pollution out.”
It’s not just the inland San Joaquin Valley that is getting hit. An air quality advisory has also gone out for the Bay Area, which has been affected by smoke from the nearby Mendocino Complex Fire. A “spare the air” alert was even issued by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District — which oversees nine counties around the bay — asking people in the area to reduce their driving to minimize smog; those alerts are issued when air quality has reached levels that are potentially unhealthy.
The Sacramento Valley has received less bad air than the San Joaquin Valley, but a “spare the air” advisory was released there as well.
“It doesn’t really matter which way the wind blows because you’ll get smoke from some fire or another,” said Jamie Arno of the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.
Experts are hopeful that smog and particulate matter will dissipate soon, carried off by wind and ocean breezes. But in the San Joaquin Valley, home to some 4 million people, it is difficult to know when the air quality will get better.
“That’s the million dollar question. Everyone is asking us that,” Ms. Holt said. “We need a change in the weather pattern to physically push the pollution out of the valley. We need a little bit of a change of weather. But we also need the fires to be extinguished. The long term solution is for the fires to stop burning.”
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(Please note: We regularly highlight articles on news sites that have limited access for nonsubscribers.)
• The Mendocino Complex Fire has grown to more than 300,000 acres, but firefighters are getting a larger grip on the blaze. [The Sacramento Bee]
• Environmental scientists, writing in The New York Times’s opinion section, warn that California’s out-of-control wildfires are “likely to worsen in the coming years.” [The New York Times]
• The New York Times editorial board decried President Trump’s “stubborn refusal to grasp the basics of climate change.” [The New York Times]
• The Trump administration has taken a step toward opening 1.6 million acres of public land in California to fracking and oil drilling. [The Sacramento Bee]
• A coordinated law-enforcement effort in Southern California seized thousands of pounds of drugs during cartel-related raids. [The Los Angeles Times]
• Costa Mesa on Wednesday banned needle-exchange programs in the city, a move that cuts against the recommendations of public health experts. [The Los Angeles Times]
• A man has been arrested under suspicion of starting the Holy Fire in Orange County, as the blaze prompts evacuations. [The Los Angeles Times]
• Three out of four Californians cannot afford median home prices, as housing affordability hits a 10-year low in the state. [The Sacramento Bee]
• Businesses near Yosemite are struggling amid the park’s closing due to the Ferguson Fire. [The San Francisco Chronicle]
And Finally …
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts announced Wednesday that it would add a category to the Oscars for “outstanding achievement in popular film,” prompting a slew of questions about the intent behind such an award and much mockery on social media.
The academy has long suffered from the reputation that it favors niche films that do not overlap with what American moviegoers are actually watching.
The Times’s Brooks Barnes reported on the stakes for the Oscars and the motivation behind the decision: “Whether its remedies are the correct ones or not, the academy had to take some kind of action: The Oscars are increasingly out of touch. A record low of 26.5 million people watched this year’s telecast, a nearly 20 percent drop from a year earlier. As recently as four years ago, the Academy Awards had an audience of 43.7 million viewers.”
The comments on Twitter were skeptical, to say the least.
“Giving out an Oscar for Best Popular Film is like giving out a Nobel Prize for Hottest Abs,” tweeted the screenwriter Jess Dweck.
“And the Oscar for Best Achievement in Pandering goes to…,” wrote the L.A. Times film critic Justin Chang.
“You know what doesn’t get enough recognition? Extremely popular films,” tweeted the film commentator Scott Tobias.
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California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.