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Smoke from the Mosquito Fire begins creating unhealthy to hazardous conditions in northern California

Sep 12, 2022, 5:40 PM
Firefighters use aircraft to battle a wildfire south of Salem, Oregon, on September 9. (Andrew Sels...
Firefighters use aircraft to battle a wildfire south of Salem, Oregon, on September 9. (Andrew Selsky/AP via CNN)
(Andrew Selsky/AP via CNN)

(CNN) — A wall of smoke from the Mosquito Fire in the Sierra Nevada mountains is creating hazardous conditions in Northern California, choking the air with smoke as strong winds complicate firefighting efforts.

The smoke’s impact was most visually clear in a time-lapse video posted by the NWS in Reno, Nevada. The video was taken from inside the NWS Reno office and shows the smoke from the Mosquito Fire in California flowing into the area over about one to two hours on Sunday, said meteorologist Heather Richards.

The smoke, which has created unhealthy to hazardous air quality, is expected to linger in the Tahoe Basin and Reno area through Monday, the weather service said.

“It smells really smoky. It looks really hazy. There’s not an ounce of blue in the sky,” Pam Malone of Folsom, a city within the parameters of the fire, told CNN affiliate KCRA-TV. Malone told the affiliate she was limiting her time outdoors because of the unhealthy air quality.

The rapidly growing blaize, which started September 6, is currently the largest fire burning in the state and only 10% contained. It had already consumed 46,587 acres in both El Dorado and Placer counties as of Monday, according to Cal Fire.

Nationwide, 92 active large wildland fires have torched nearly 728,000 acres — the majority of them burning in northwestern states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Sweltering under rising temperatures, drought-ravaged Western states have become hotbeds of thirsty, dry brush that can fuel more volatile wildfires that burn hotter and for longer.

As numerous fires ravaged Western states, air quality alerts were in place across much of Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Skies turned orange and hazy in parts of Oregon over the weekend as winds carried smoke from the multiple fires burning in the state.

The smoke was so thick in Washington that it blocked some solar radiation and created temperatures that were lower than anticipated, according to the NWS in Spokane.

Smoke can irritate the eyes and lungs and worsen some medical conditions. Those facing the highest risk are infants and young children, people with heart or lung disease, older adults and pregnant people. Many residents were told to stay inside if possible, keep windows and doors closed and avoid strenuous outdoor activity.

Recent studies have shown that being exposed to both extreme heat and wildfire smoke at the same time can worsen the health risks, and that’s expected to become more of a threat, UCLA researchers said in a study published last month.

“Rising global temperatures and more frequent extreme heat events are expected to increase wildfire size and intensity, signaling a growing public health threat from concurrent heat-smoke exposure,” researchers wrote.

Where the fires are burning

In Oregon — which had 19 active wildfires Monday, according to the Oregon Department of Emergency Management — containment of the Cedar Creek Fire dropped from 12% to 0% as the fire exploded in size over the weekend, now swallowing more than 86,000 acres in very steep and difficult to access terrain. A lightning storm August 1 sparked the fire.

Driven by strong easterly winds, triple-digit temperatures and dry fuels, flames breached containment lines that firefighters have for weeks worked to build.

Evacuations were ordered in Lane and Deschutes counties as the fire advanced, making wind-driven runs and threatening 2,230 homes and 443 commercial structures.

On Sunday, fire officials said extreme weather from the past two days was easing, temperatures have started to cool and shifting winds have calmed.

However, the blaze was still expected to advance through heavy fuels, officials said.

As wildfires tore through the parched lands, Oregonians were also contending with power shutoffs. Thousands of customers in Oregon, including those in the suburbs of Portland, were without power for part of the weekend as Pacific Power implemented Public Safety Power Shutoffs to reduce wildfire risk as winds picked up.

In Washington, where 16 fires were active Monday, the National Weather service warned of hazardous air quality in several areas across the state through Monday.

In California, residents saw both record rainfall and record heat in the same week, as what used to be Tropical Storm Kay made a rare close pass to the state amid a record-breaking heat wave.

The lingering showers brought isolated flooding to some parts of Southern California, but also helped firefighters. Aided by ample moisture, rainfall and cooler temperatures, crews battling the Fairview Fire managed to shore up containment of the 28,307-acre blaze to 53% by Monday.

The fire — which broke out last Monday in Riverside County and grew quickly — has killed two civilians and injured a third, destroyed 35 buildings and forced thousands to evacuate, according to Cal Fire.

On Saturday, a pilot and two fire personnel were injured when a helicopter assigned to the Fairview Fire crashed in a residential backyard while attempting to land at a local airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Some evacuation orders were reduced to warnings Sunday as scattered showers slowed the fire’s spread, officials said. Full containment of the blaze was expected by Saturday, according to Cal Fire.

In Idaho, the Moose Fire, about 17 miles north of the town of Salmon, was 125,925 acres Monday with 37% containment, according to Inciweb, a clearinghouse for US fire information. Dry and unstable conditions and potential gusty winds over the next day could increase fire behavior, officials said.

There was marginal risk for excessive rainfall through the overnight hours for parts of Southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Monday, the moisture in Southern California is forecast to spread to the north, bringing rain to northwest Arizona before heading into Nevada by Tuesday. A flood watch is already in effect for eastern Nevada from Tuesday through Wednesday night, CNN Meteorologist Robert Shackelford said.

Meanwhile, isolated dry storms are possible for northern Nevada Monday, which could spark new fires in that area, according to Shackelford. Also, eastern Montana is expected to see elevated fire weather risk due to 15 mph winds and very dry air.


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Smoke from the Mosquito Fire begins creating unhealthy to hazardous conditions in northern California