Rotarians chip in to distribute dust masks
Smoke billows from scattered wildfires in California, USA, as captured by NASA's Aqua Satellite. Photo courtesy NASA
Rotarians in Northern California, USA, handed out thousands of dust masks as smoke from the state's worst wildfire outbreak in years continued to pose a health threat to residents.
Earlier this month, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger highlighted the severity of the situation as firefighters battled more than 2,000 blazes affecting over 900,000 acres, according to the California Department of Foresty and Fire Protection.
"It's very important to note that up until recently, we had a fire season, which meant that late summer throughout the fall we had the fire season," Schwarzenegger said in a briefing. "Now there is no more fire season. There are fires all year around."
Rotarians in Oroville and Gridley spent the weekend of 12-13 July as "smokefighters," handing out more than 1,200 dust masks to evacuees in shelters and hospitals. Later in the week, Brian Moore, governor of District 5180 , coordinated more giveaways in shopping centers and on street corners with Rotarians in District 5160.
The masks have a rating of N95, meaning they filter out 95 percent of particulate matter, more than surgical masks, according to Dr. Matthew Fine, chief medical officer at Oroville Hospital. That degree of filtration blocks dangerous materials carried from burning vegetation.
In nearby Paradise, threatened twice this year by encroaching forest fires, Stan Thompson, an assistant governor of District 5160, helped secure 1,560 masks for the town after officials ran out. See related story.
Long after the wildfires are contained, they will continue to affect residents’ health. Fine said smoke from burning forests carries particulate matter such as dust and soot, some of it very fine, which has residual effects when it enters the respiratory system. The matter eventually builds up in the lungs, posing risks for everyone, but especially people with breathing problems such as asthma.
The weather patterns that have hampered firefighting efforts are also worsening the air quality. Inversion layers have trapped smoke close to the ground, keeping out cooler breezes that would otherwise clear it out.
"We are told high pressure -- that which makes inversion layers -- will lift in days ahead, allowing in cooler breezes with higher humidity," said William Short, an assistant governor of District 5180. "We are told, however, breezes could stir up hot spots and fan flames to a new frenzy. We pray for a little of the former and none of the latter."