Sacramento County has new wildfire smoke response plan

Source: Capradio: Steve Milne

"There was a lot of confusion with some schools being open, some schools being closed, some employers say 'go to work,' public transportation messages as well,” McCarty said. “So we said 'hey, we need to come up with a better plan to focus on what to do when we have these events.'”

Sacramento County is now equipped with a plan intended to help organizations function when smoke from nearby fires drifts into the region. 

The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District Board approved the Wildfire Smoke Emergency Plan on Thursday. The plan gives businesses, schools and local emergency response agencies guidelines on how to respond when smoke from fires — burning in wildland or elsewhere — descends upon the region and causes poor air quality. 

Some of these guidelines, while not mandatory, are specific. The plan says schools should move recess, athletic practices and physical education classes indoors when Air Quality Index (AQI) reaches 200, a level which the Environmental Protection Agency defines as “very unhealthy.” It also says employers should offer N95 masks to employees who work outdoors when AQI exceeds 150.

Other guidelines in the emergency plan include which public agencies are responsible for making decisions during smoke events. 

Carlos Cossio, Sacramento County’s Healthcare Preparedness Program Coordinator, called the plan an “important milestone” for organizations across the region.

Sacramento air quality officials were required to come up with the emergency plan under a 2019 state law written by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento). 

McCarty told CapRadio he wrote the legislation after the Sacramento region was inundated with smoke during the Camp and Mendocino Complex fires in Nov. 2018. Health concerns over the smoke blanketing the region prompted Sacramento State, UC Davis, and several Sacramento-area school districts to cancel classes. 

"There was a lot of confusion with some schools being open, some schools being closed, some employers say 'go to work,' public transportation messages as well,” McCarty said. “So we said 'hey, we need to come up with a better plan to focus on what to do when we have these events.'”

The Mosquito Fire, which is 76,781 acres and 85% contained as of Monday morning, brought heavy smoke to the eastern portion of the Sacramento Valley and the Tahoe Basin in early September. 

"We actually had the opportunity to implement this with the [Mosquito Fire] and everyone appreciated that it went a lot smoother,” Sacramento County Public Health Officer Doctor Olivia Kasirye said. “I believe that this plan prepares us better.”

The plan went into effect on Thursday.