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Governor activates emergency plan in response to heat wave

By Niesha Lofing - nlofing@sacbee.com

Last Updated 6:12 pm PDT Monday, July 7, 2008

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The north state's latest heat wave today prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to activate the state's plan for excessive heat emergencies.

That move comes the same day that the first Spare the Air advisory was released by the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District in sponse to plummeting air quality caused by wildfires burning in Northern California.

Schwarzenegger directed the Office of Emergency Services, the Department of Public Health and other state agencies to implement activities such as opening cooling centers at state facilities and contacting licensed care facilities, hospitals and others that serve seniors and special needs populations, states a news release from the governor's office.

The State Operations Center, which has been managing the state's wildfire response 24 hours a day, will add staff from other state agencies to monitor the heat wave and respond to heat-related issues.

For a list of open cooling centers and heat illness prevention tips, go to www.oes.ca.gov.

Schwarzenegger and public health officials are urging all Californians in areas where extreme heat conditions exist to prepare for the hot weather and use caution when participating in activities. Residents in smoky areas are encouraged to stay inside and limit physical activity, the release states.

"I urge all Californians to take proper health precautions as the temperatures rise into the 90s and 100s across the state - drink plenty of water and check on your neighbors who may be more vulnerable," Schwarzenegger said in a written statement.

Today's Spare the Air advisory was the first such designation declared this year, according to the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District's Web site.

Smoke coupled with increasing ozone levels are to blame for the "very unhealthy" air quality, the Web site states.

The worst levels of particulate matter - small particles that carry the highest potential for causing health problems - have been documented near Colfax and Auburn.

The air quality index today is expected to reach 210, exceeding the highest of the index's four levels. An air quality index of 150 to 200 is considered unhealthy for everybody, according to district information.

Residents are advised to remove themselves from areas where they see or smell smoke, or to go indoors.

Light winds forecast for the region also are contributing to the poor air quality.

A light north wind about 5 to 10 mph will be blowing in much of the region today, said Holly Osborne, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

The breeze will push more smoke into the valley, especially in the eastern areas, Osborne said. The Weather service anticipates smoky skies for the entire week.

"There's a ridge of high pressure building over us that kind of puts a lid on it," Osborne said. "(The smoke) flows down into the valley and sort of gets trapped."

But there might be a slight silver lining: The smoke could help lower temperatures.

The latest Weather Service forecast predicts high temperatures in the Sacramento area to reach 104 degrees today and 107 degrees Tuesday and Wednesday.

Forecasters can't be sure whether the smoke will buffer high temperatures, as it did two weeks ago, but it might help, Osborne said.

"That's the tricky part of the forecast," Osborne said. "During the day, it blocks some of the sun, so our highs can be cooler. But overnight, it sort of serves as a blanket and gets trapped in, so our nightly temperatures are higher than we normally see."

Given the area's unhealthy air, people are advised to limit outdoor activities and prolonged exposure to the smoke, especially people with respiratory conditions, older adults and young children, a special weather statement on the Weather Service Web site states.

Studies have found that short-term exposure to particulate matter can aggravate lung disease, causing asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, increase a person's susceptibility to respiratory infections and cause heart attacks and arrhythmia in people with heart disease, the air district's Web site states.

Healthy people also may experience irritated eyes, nose and throat, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.

Long-term effects include decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, irregular heartbeat and chronic respiratory disease in children, the Web site states.

About the writer:

  • Call The Bee's Niesha Lofing, (916) 321-1270.

The first wave of California National Guard ground troops supporting Operation Lightning Strike, Task Force Axe, wait on the curb near the entrance to McClellan Air Park as they deploy to Mendocino County to assist with firefighting efforts on Monday morning. Bryan Patrick / bpatrick@sacbee.com


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Smoke covers the mountains as firefighters keep watch over a burning wildfire in Big Sur today. Smoke from fires throughout Northern California have prompted the governor to issue a warning. Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

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