MENDOCINO CO., 11/9/18 -- The Camp Fire in Butte County, which exploded up to 70,000 acres in 24 hours and has killed at least 5 people, has also cast a tremendous shroud of dark smoke across Northern California — and among the hardest hit by the smoke is Mendocino County. The smoke has prompted a public health advisory from the Mendocino County Air Quality Management District, and is so bad that as of this morning Ukiah had the worst air quality of any place in the United States. The air quality in Ukiah continues to be extremely bad, registering as officially “hazardous,” not just for sensitive groups, but for everyone. Officials caution everyone who can to remain in doors and avoid strenuous activity if possible.
The hazard is great enough that Mendocino College, Ukiah Unified and Willits Unified school districts cancelled classes today, and the county government closed the administrative offices at mid-day due to the smoke, which ranges from “hazardous” to “unhealthy” across the county.
What’s more, a red flag warning will continue to exist across most of the state till at least next week. With no rain in sight, dry weather and high winds, and new fires in SoCal, California’s firefighting infrastructure is being stretched thin.
The smoke is expected to remain with us for at least three days, but could stay longer depending on weather conditions, and the success that firefighters have in Butte. The magnitude of the smoke is all the more remarkable because the fire is burning 90 to 100 miles to the east.
Large portions of California have been under a red flag warning for extreme fire weather over the last several days, and a number of wildfires have broken out, including the Brushy Fire near Dos Rios, here in Mendocino County. The red flag weather is forecasted to continue into next week, and smokey skies may also be ongoing. In response, the county’s Air District has issued public health advisory yesterday and today.
The Camp Fire, which is the cause of the smoke visible throughout Northern California, has rendered catastrophic losses, killing at least five people and destroying an estimated two thousand structures in Paradise, CA yesterday. Around 50,000 people were forced to evacuated and flee, as the fire crossed highways and approached the city of Chico. Growing at an incredibly rapid pace, the Camp Fire began around 6:30 a.m. and quickly reached nearly 10,000 acres, and in the last 24 hours has grown to 70,000 acres. As of this morning containment was only 5%. Additional evacuations were ordered overnight and have continued this morning. Smoke plumes from the fire stretching dramatically across Northern California can be seen from space.
You can check the current air quality for Mendocino at the Mendocino County Air Quality Management District's website and sign up for notifications at here. You can also check air quality at the Environmental Protection Agency's site, which also has forecasts. The National Weather Service also includes an air quality forecast on its website.
As many people have seen on social media and the press, the Camp Fire has effectively destroyed all of the town of Paradise, burning down potentially thousands of buildings and cars. We asked air quality specialist Barbara Moed, of the Mendocino County Air Quality Management District if this is affecting the nature of the smoke sitting over Mendo. She explain that while it is the case that structure fires release a different kind of particulate, and more chemicals into the air and smoke, the vast majority of material burned up in the fire is vegetation. Thus, the particulate and chemical smoke from structures comprise only a small fraction of this smoke — meaning that while the smoke is hazardous, according to Moed, it does not pose a unique form of hazard.
Two new fires, called the Woolsey Fire and the Hill Fire, began in Ventura County, near Thousand Oaks, in the Los Angeles area yesterday, prompting around 100,000 people to be evacuated, and closing a portion of Highway 101 on Thursday. The Woolsey Fire is 8,000 acres and the Hill Fire is currently 6,100 acres, with no containment as of mid-day Friday. Critical fire weather is expected to continue through the weekend and into next week throughout the state, according to CalFire’s Scott Pimlott in the mid-day statewide CalFire press conference, who emphasized CalFire has “all hands on deck” to protect lives and help people evacuate during the rapidly growing fires.
Acting Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for both Butte County and Ventura County, and has also requested direct federal assistance. The state of California has also reached out to neighboring states for mutual aid support towards personnel and equipment to fight these fires. You can get more information from the mid-day update on current statewide fires from CalFire in this video:
You can check current air quality levels at the Mendocino County Air Quality Management District website. Here’s more information about how to protect yourself from wildfire smoke. More information about the current fires can be found at the CalFire current incidents page.