Air quality causes major concern

No rain predicted this week
By: Bruce Warren Journal Staff Writer
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“We’re going to continue to have the smoke,” said Ann Hobbs air-quality specialist for the Placer County Air Pollution Control District. The seven-day National Weather Service forecast shows no signs of precipitation this week. The air-quality index rose to 133 at noon Monday, but at 9 a.m. the micrograms-per-meter count went down to 34, which is the lowest it’s been in five days, Hobbs said. The federally accepted standard for dust particles in the air is 35 micrograms per meter squared, over a 24-hour average. “There were 3,200 lightning strikes igniting 602 fires in northern California,” Hobbs said. “I don’t think people can understand how big that is.” Hobbs keeps a daily eye on the air quality, and gets some of her fire information from the Web at “We’ve moved into the range for unhealthy air for sensitive individuals,” Hobbs said about the 133 index at noon on Monday. Auburn resident Mary Henderson, who describes herself as “pretty tough and pain tolerant,” was adversely affected by the smoky weather last week. “My doctor told me I had the worse sinus infection she had ever seen,” Henderson said. “Last Monday, I went to the dog park and everything was fine, but that night it was like having an attack. “My eyes watered and went into extreme pain. I never had anything like that,” Henderson said. “My right eye got so swelled up that I could not open it.” She has no past history of allergies or asthma, Henderson said. “We’ve had fires before, but not for this length of time,” said Henderson, who has lived in Auburn for more than 30 years. “I’ve been afraid to go out, because of what happened.” For Lake of the Pines resident Fred Sanchez, the smoky weather has kept him house bound for more than one week. Sanchez, a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patient, does not require regular oxygen use, but uses a prescribed inhaler when necessary. “I’ve been in my house for 10 days straight,” Sanchez said. “You can taste the smoke in your mouth. I have to wash my mouth out at least three or four times a day. Today, my throat is really sore. It’s really taking its toll on me.” Even though the smoke has kept him inside, Sanchez has not made any recent trips to Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital for treatment. He has been a patient in Sutter’s pulmonary rehabilitation department for the past five years, he said. Sanchez has lived in Lake of the Pines for more than 28 years, and this is one of the few times that he was not able to see the hills in front of his house. “I have a view of the ranchos in front of my house, and today (Monday) it was really hazy. But other days I couldn’t even see it,” Sanchez said. “I have a wife and two children, who don’t even let me go around the corner to get the paper.” Smoky weather has also kept Myra Johnson inside. Johnson, who lives in the Edgewood Home Park north of Auburn, must stay on an oxygen-concentrator machine daily in order to breathe. “As long as I stayed inside, I’ve been ok,” said Johnson, who took out her Jack Russell terrier for a walk on Monday for the first time in a week. Johnson has not tried venturing outdoors with a protective mask. However, a particulate respirator mask with the word Niosh printed on it, with either N95 or P100 is the type of mask that will prevent the tiny microgram particles from being inhaled into your lungs, according to Dr. Mark Starr, director of Placer County community health clinic. Phone calls to several local pharmacies revealed no N95 or P100 masks in stock. The cloth dust masks or surgical masks will not protect the lungs from wildfire smoke, as explained in detail on a Web release by the California Department of Public Health. About 10 people have visited the Skyridge Pharmacy on Auburn Folsom Road seeking masks. A clerk, who asked not to be identified, said the pharmacy does have some masks marked as Niosh. The Journal’s Bruce Warren can be reached at, or post a comment.