Poor air quality lingers through Orange County

A view of smokey orange skies over Irvine on Sept. 9. Sangeetha Koomar/Lariat

Air quality in Orange County suffered after fires continued to rage through California

Orange County, like the rest of the western region of the United States, felt the harmful effects of poor air quality due to the dozens of fires that burned through California throughout Aug. and Sept. The wildfires enveloped the state with a thick layer of smoke that can be seen from space

This year, according to Cal Fire, fires in California have burned an estimated 3,627,010 acres, with the most destruction coming in the last eight weeks from the August Complex fire that has burned almost a million acres of land on its own and, as of Sept. 24, is still only 38% contained.

These historic fires have become some of the largest in California history. Five of the top 20 largest wildfires in state history are currently burning and the August Complex fire sits on the top of the list, nearly doubling the acreage of the Mendocino Complex fires of July 2018

Air quality in Southern California has suffered greatly because of the smoke from these fires through Aug. and Sept., reaching dangerous levels according to Purple Air, a website dedicated to air-quality monitoring in real-time. 

This website, along with many similar ones, measures air quality with the Air Quality Index. AQI measures air quality from 0 to 500 with six categories ranging from good to hazardous. According to their levels, a grading of 50 is good air quality, while an AQI of 150 and over is unhealthy for the general population.

Levels of pollution in the air reached unhealthy levels in Sept. for Orange County, which means that prolonged exposure to being outside should be reduced by all groups of the population. Those who are especially sensitive or at risk to poor air quality are strongly encouraged to avoid any prolonged or heavy exertion outside altogether.

With wildfires still burning, air quality has been fluctuating in Southern California. When air quality is poor due to pollution and smoke it is recommended to wear a N95 respirator mask in addition to staying inside.

N95 masks will provide better protection than that of a cloth covering. Staying inside is ultimately the safer route and a number of ways to minimize being affected by smoke are posted on the California Air Resource Board website. Tips like closing windows, checking air quality regularly and running air conditioning are all listed on the page.

Since the smoke from wildfires particularly affects elderly people and members of the population with health conditions like asthma, following recommended guidelines will be beneficial.

According to Saddleback College’s website, Saddleback’s Emeritus Institute “has served as the leader within California as the State’s largest, non-credit, older adult education program serving nearly 6,000 students throughout South Orange County.” With the average age of students in the program being 73, this part of the student population will need to be extra careful during Wildfire season in California.

Saddleback’s Student Health Center is offering several options to students during COVID-19 and wildfire season with virtual visits and the option to schedule appointments online or by phone.