SQF Complex fire creates hazardous air in the Valley

By Elizabeth Mendia

The SQF Complex Fire that began on Aug. 19 in the Golden Trout Wilderness has been negatively impacting air quality around the Valley.
On the morning of Aug. 28, the Interagency Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program, that is led by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS,) reported the air quality around Kernville as being “hazardous,” and advised that all persons avoid outdoor activity.

The Interagency Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program (IW-FAQRP) was formed to provide the public with timely information about hazards posed by wildland fires. A specific website page with updates and recommendations related to SQF Complex Fire has been created.

The IWFAQRP uses a standardized six-tiered warning system, known as the Air Quality Index (AQI) developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that ranges from “good” to “hazard-ous,” with corresponding safety recommendations to inform the public. Air quality can range greatly throughout the day, and predictable patterns can clearly be seen on the IWFAQRP website.

For example, at night, between 8 p.m. on Aug. 27 and 1 a.m. on Aug. 28, the air quality in Kernville was “good,” but by 4 a.m. the air quality had deteriorated to “very unhealthy.” This pattern of good air quality at night but “unhealthy” or even “hazardous” air quality in the morning and afternoon is regularly repeated, and readers should access the Southern Sierra Smoke Outlook website for the latest information.

The SQF Complex Fire is located approximately 24 miles directly north of Kernville and straddles the Kern River in some places. The bulk of the fire, however, is concentrated on the west side of the river.

On Aug. 28, the fire was just four miles west of the Lower Peppermint campground and less than two miles from the Freeman Creek Grove. The Freeman Creek Grove is the easternmost sequoia grove of the Sequoia National Monument. It is home to more than 800 sequoias of 10-foot diameter and more than 100 trees of 15-foot diameter, according to the Forest Service.

Soot, which at 2.5 microns in diameter is approximately five times smaller than dust or mold, is an especially dangerous pollutant. Older adults, infants and persons with underlying lung conditions such as asthma are especially at risk. Persons with underlying heart disease are also at risk and should report chest pain, shortness of breath or increased heart rate to their doctors, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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