Health concerns rise as air quality worsens in the Central Valley

August 20, 2021 /

Smoke from the Northern California wildfires and the French Fire in Lake Isabella have increased air quality concerns throughout the Central Valley, including Kern County.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has issued a health cautionary statement due to gusty winds and smoke impacts from continuing wildfires. The health caution will remain in effect for Kern County until the fires are extinguished or until
smoke is no longer affecting the Valley.

As of August 20, there are 12 wildfires that may be impacting air quality in the San Joaquin Valley: the Dixie Fire, French Fire, Cache Fire, Lava Fire, Antelope Fire, Monument Fire, River Complex, McFarland Fire, Tiltill Fire, Caldor Fire, Walkers Fire, and McCash Fire.

Cassandra Melching, with the San Joaquin Valley APCD, told FOX40 that the shift in the winds prompted the district to issue a health caution for San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties.

“It’s like a bowl, we have mountains on all sides of us,” she explained. “And so what, essentially, that means is that any type of pollutant that’s created, whether that be, you know, through the daily business or through forest fires, it has nowhere to go. It blows into the valley, and then it gets trapped by those mountains and it becomes stuck.”

The smoke and dust pollute the air with particulate matter, which at elevated levels can be a health hazard for pets and people.

“It’s really, really detrimental to one’s health,” Melching said. “It can trigger asthma attacks, aggravate chronic bronchitis. It increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and so it’s a very gnarly pollutant.”

As the French Fire continues to burn in Lake Isabella, the Kern County Public Health Services Department urges the public to limit their exposure to wildfire smoke by reducing the amount of time spent outdoors, if possible. They also suggest that individuals stay hydrated and reduce other sources of indoor air pollution, such as burning cigarettes, candles, gas, propane and wood burning stoves and furnaces, and vacuuming.

Individuals with heart or lung disease should follow their doctors’ advice for dealing with episodes of PM exposure. Those with existing respiratory conditions, including COVID-19, young children and the elderly, are especially susceptible to the health effects from this form of pollution.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District recommends staying inside and changing the air filters in air conditioners to ensure particulates remain outside the residence. Using an air purifier can also remove toxic materials from the atmosphere. Wearing an N95 mask, not a cloth mask, can also provide relief to those suffering from respiratory ailments.

The public is advised to visit the District’s Wildfire Information Page at for details on current and recently past wildfires affecting the Valley. The site includes resources on how to protect yourself from exposure to wildfire smoke, including instructions on how to make a DIY air filter for your home, links to foothill air monitors and the District’s Real-time Air Advisory Network (RAAN), allowing residents to track air quality at any Valley location.