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Delta breeze clears the air in Sacramento Valley

By Maddalena Jackson - mjackson@sacbee.com

Published 9:22 am PDT Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Story appeared in METRO section, Page B3

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Sacramento Valley residents were finally able to see clouds against a hint of blue sky Monday – a sign of fresher air for those brushed by the onshore winds.

"This is a classic Delta breeze for this time of year," said Johnnie Powell, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

As for the smoke, Powell said the winds "are blowing it all up toward Redding."

Air quality readings reached into the "unhealthy" levels late last week but have settled back into the "good" category in the Valley.

"However, in the foothills, the winds are lighter; so we will continue to see some elevated readings in those communities," said Jamie Arno, spokeswoman for the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.

Winds are a welcomed respite from smoke in the Valley but do not help with the original problem – fires.

"When winds increase, there are increased burning conditions," said Cherri Patterson, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The National Weather Service warned of more thunderstorms – and the possibility of new fires – in the mountains over the weekend, but it looks like the Valley has dodged that bullet.

"The low came across and (the storms) went north of us," said Powell. "No more fires were caused by lightning this weekend."

But forecasters expect to see the airflow cease and conditions turn stagnant and hot later this week as a high-pressure system in the Southwest bulges overhead and clamps down on the Valley.

Residents can expect to see temperatures "probably around the century mark – 10 degrees above normal," said Powell.

Stagnant conditions mean more smoke, if fires still burn.

"Different fires, depending on the vegetation, are contained in different manners. Timber fires take longer, grass fires shorter," said Patterson. "But … the firefighters are making great progress. The guys are hardworking, but there's a science to it."

"Ideally, we wouldn't have had droughts for the last couple years, no lighting and no thunderstorms," said Patterson. "California is a tinderbox."

True to that description, fire officials say thousands of acres continued to burn Monday, more than a week after the first wildfires were ignited by lightning.

Since June 20, according to Cal Fire, 1,459 fires statewide have charred more than 379,000 acres, destroying 30 residences and threatening 7,600 more.

The U.S. Forest Service said about 600 fires were burning on Monday. It attributed the gains to its tactic of attacking small fires first, and to significant assistance from other states and Canada.

In the Tahoe National Forest, three fires in the so-called American River Complex had burned 3,700 acres and were just 10 percent contained as of Monday morning. This complex is burning 11 miles northeast of Foresthill in Placer County and may be moving toward the Interstate 80 corridor, officials said.

By midafternoon, however, no evacuations had been ordered, according to the Placer County Sheriff's Department.

The biggest blaze still burning in Northern California, called the Indians fire, has consumed more than 61,000 acres of Los Padres National Forest in Monterey County and was 89 percent contained Monday. Burning 18 miles west of King City, the Indians fire threatens numerous houses and cultural resources, according to the Forest Service.

Fog and humidity helped firefighters battling a blaze in Big Sur. John Heil, a Forest Service spokesman, said the fire, which was just 3 percent contained, blackened about 39,600 acres.

About the writer:

  • Call the Bee's Maddalena Jackson at (916) 321-1041. Staff writers Dorothy Korber and Bobby Caina Calvan and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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