Smoke Fills valleys, fire rages with no end in sight

No end is in sight for smoke from the raging Star fire, west of Lake Tahoe, that is obscuring mountains and inundating valleys worse than Los Angeles smog.

Stinging eyes, headaches and an annoying layer of filmy ash on cars are some of the more common problems. But for the elderly and those suffering from lung disorders like emphysema and asthma, the symptoms can be more serious.

"This is terrible," said Carson City resident Mel Jones, an emphysema and bronchitis sufferer. "I can't have my windows open at night and I have to be very careful."

"I'm suffering from 50 years of smoking but this aggravates the situation," said emphysema patient C.W. Hayes as he smiled gamely. "Normally I can be without oxygen for about one hour, but I must use it constantly in this smoke."

Problems have been minimal in Carson-Tahoe Hospital's emergency room, but caution is the word, according to Registered Nurse Bob Kinney.

"Anyone with any respiratory history, those on oxygen therapy or any lung problems should stay inside and not exert themselves," he said.

"Most people are pretty good about staying indoors," said Terry McDaniel, respiratory department manager at Carson-Tahoe. "Mostly, this is an irritation."

Ray Collins, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said there is no weather change on the horizon that could offer a respite from the smoke, and the skies will most likely clear when the fire is out.

"We are directly downwind and getting the worst of it," he said. "It may be a little worse in California closer to the fire, but the smoke is drifting mainly around Reno and Carson City and I don't see the weather pattern changing soon."

Normal readings for particulate matter locally range between one and five micrograms per cubic meter, according to officials at the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection. Values are currently averaging about 33 in Carson City and 31 in Gardnerville, so the particulate matter is significantly higher than normal but not exceeding ambient air quality standards. Sixty-five micrograms per cubic meter is considered unhealthy, according to the standard established by the Environmental Protection Agency, so the real problems aren't in Carson City.

About 8,400 acres are burning out of control 13 miles due west of Lake Tahoe along the Middle Fork of the American River. The fire is aided by heavy timber, steep terrain and record dry conditions.

"The terrain is causing major control difficulties and extreme fire behavior," said Frank Beum, information officer for the U.S. Forest Service.

Fire is traveling across tree tops in a phenomenon known as crowning and moving rapidly from the bottom of trees to the top in a phenomena known as torching. Embers drifted more than a mile from the head of the fire yesterday, doubling the fire's size and increasing its treachery according to Beum.

"Flames are shooting between 200 and 300 feet and yesterday the fire advanced an additional two-and-a-half miles," Beum said. "The fire is moving northeast and at this point there is no estimate on its containment."

About 2,000 firefighters have been called in from all over the country to fight the blaze, including 62 hand crews, 19 engines, 14 dozers, 18 water tenders, 13 helicopters and five air tankers, according to Beum.


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