‘Significant health effects’: UC Davis biologist warns residents sifting through burnt homes to wear N95 masks


(KTXL) — In the ongoing battle against wildfires on the West Coast, Cal Fire officials say state, local and federal resources have been assigned to 29 major wildfires in California. 

So far, more than 800,000 acres have burned with 8,707 firefighters actively trying to contain the blazes. The Dixie Fire is now the third-largest wildfire in the state’s history, burning more than 434,000 aces in Butte and Plumas counties. 

As the Dixie Fire continues to burn vegetation and structures, UC Davis Professor Kent Pinkerton says the smoke and haze residents are experiencing miles away is potentially carrying dangerous particles with it. 

“We’re not just talking about biomass burning but we’re talking about also other compounds: paints, plastics and computers. All these materials that we have indoors that can be consumed by the fire and be part of the particles that we are actually breathing,” Pinkerton said. 

According to the Air Quality Index, moderate to healthy breathing levels should be below 100. The levels reached in the Sacramento region on Friday were just over 160. Areas surrounding the Dixie Fire also saw their AQI levels reach unhealthy to very unhealthy levels. 

“Those are very hazardous levels of particles in the atmosphere that could produce some significant health effects,” Pinkerton said. “We can basically continue to see particles for at least two weeks but that could possible extend for even a longer time.” 

UC Berkeley Forestry Extension specialist Bill Stewart says, depending on the drought outlook for this year and next year, heavily wooded areas and hard-hit neighborhoods will take years to be restored. 

“Even after a fire, there’s still lots of dry fuel that can catch on fire the next year. so, another year of drought will make it very, very difficult for natural trees to reseed the area and to grow back,” Stewart said. “Even if the fastest schedule might take people two years to even start rebuilding, it’s a long process. There’s going to be all this infrastructure that has to be removed like a hazardous waste site. So Greenville, it’s going to be very difficult to rebuild that. 

Pinkerton says people who are in the process of evacuating near the Dixie Fire or are going back to their burned homes to sift through the rubble must wear N95 masks. It’s the best way to protect from pollutants. 

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