Fire Near Markleeville Grows to 15,000 Acres, Smoke Affects Eastside

This photo was taken from about 25 miles away from the fire, near Mount Patterson in the Sweetwater Range, showing the size of the smoke column on Sunday evening June 21.
By: 
Wendilyn Grasseschi
Staff Writer

A 15,000-acre fire called the Washington Fire located near Ebbetts Pass has closed S.R. 89 at the junction of U.S. 395 (the Monitor Pass Road) through to S.R. 4 and was still growing as of Tuesday, June 23, throwing immense, dark clouds of smoke into the Carson Valley and some of the Antelope Valley area, as well as threatening the town of Markeeville, whose residents are under a warning to be ready to evacuate their properties if need be.

The fire was started by a lightening strike in the high country south of Markeeville near a mountain called Silver Peak on Friday, June 19, and strong southwest winds and low humidity have allowed the fire to grow rapidly each day, fire officials said.

S.R. 4 is also closed from Ebbets Pass to the junction with S.R. 89. Many area campgrounds and other recreation areas are also closed.

Smoke from the fire, along with several other fires burning in the Sierra including one near Sonora Pass and one near Oakhurst, are contributing to the haze and smoke visible today, June 23, in Mammoth and the rest of the Eastern Sierra. The forecast for the next few days if for more of the same—a mixture of clear, warm days and hazy, warm days, at least until this weekend when rain and thunderstorms could provide some relief–and potentially start some new fires.

In other fire news, the Sky Fire, which dumped relatively heavy smoke into Mammoth on Thursday last week is now mostly contained and fire activity is slowing down making it unlikely there will be another influx of smoke into the area from that fire.

According to the National Weather Service, the winds could draw local smoke into the Westside tonight and tomorrow, but then, the smoke could shift back again–and back again later in the week.

"It's just going to be like this, this back and forth for the rest of the week," said Scott McGuire with the NWS office based in Reno.

The forecast is for slightly lighter winds and lower temperatures at the beginning of this week, but a rapid increase in temperatures is on tap for the latter part of the week, with potentially record temperatures on Friday. Thunderstorms are possible along the Sierra crest beginning Friday and extending into at least the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

Here is a good link for to road closures:
http://www.dot.ca.gov/cgi-bin/roads.cgi

For the Washington Fire activity, which includes info on road and campground closures, go to http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4317/

The smoke from the fires has not reached the kind of levels in Mammoth and points south seen north of us where Carson City and Minden and Gardnerville are dealing with smoke so thick the visibility is about two to three miles, but it is still wise to take precautions and avoid the smoke if at all possible, according to Mono County Public Health Officer Rick Johnson.

"Those of you in Mono County from the communities of Walker and north have undoubtedly seen the smoke from the Washington Fire burning in Alpine County. Although most of the smoke is blowing over us and into Nevada, as the wind has died down during the night, smoke has settled into the valleys this morning.

"Keep in mind that this is a very fluid and ever changing situation, dependent on the fire, fuel, control efforts, and the wind.

"Our prayers are with the large numbers of dedicated personnel who are making tremendous efforts to protect all of us, our homes, and the environment.

"Some communities in the Eastern Sierra have access to continuous particulate matter (PM) monitoring. These monitors provide an instant reading of particulate matter concentrations averaged over one hour. Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. It is these fine particles which are contained in wildfire smoke which make it so hazardous to our health. Smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases.

"Unfortunately, there is no monitoring in the areas currently impacted by smoke. Areas without monitoring need other ways to estimate particle levels. The following index is useful in judging the levels near you on a continual basis."

Good (can see 11 miles or more) - No cautionary statements.
Moderate (can see 6-10 miles) - Unusually sensitive people should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion.
Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (can see 3-5 miles) - People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.
Unhealthy (can see 1½-3 miles) - People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.
Very Unhealthy (can see 1-1½ mile) - People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid all physical activity outdoors. Everyone else should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion.
Hazardous (can see 1 mile or less) - Everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors; people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should remain indoors and keep activity levels low.

How to tell if smoke is affecting you
Smoke can cause—
• Coughing
• A scratchy throat
• Irritated sinuses
• Shortness of breath
• Chest pain
• Headaches
• Stinging eyes
• A runny nose
• Asthma exacerbations

If you have heart or lung disease, smoke might make your symptoms worse.
People who have heart disease might experience—
• Chest pain
• Rapid heartbeat
• Shortness of breath
• Fatigue

Smoke may worsen symptoms for people who have pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as respiratory allergies, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), in the following ways:
• Inability to breathe normally
• Cough with or without mucus
• Chest discomfort
• Wheezing and shortness of breath

When smoke levels are high enough, even healthy people may experience some of these symptoms.

Know whether you are at risk
If you have heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, COPD, emphysema, or asthma, you are at higher risk of having health problems than healthy people.
Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke, possibly because they are more likely to have heart or lung diseases than younger people.
Children are more likely to be affected by health threats from smoke because their airways are still developing and because they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults. Children also are more likely to be active outdoors.

—WG

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