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Cooler temperatures aid battle against California wildfires, but smoke continues to choke Central Valley

Cooler temperatures aid battle against California wildfires, but smoke continues to choke Central Valley
A tunnel view leading to the Yosemite Valley, the most popular destination in Yosemite National Park, is clouded in smoke from the Ferguson fire. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Although a break in the weather has provided firefighters a respite from the scorching heat that has complicated the fight against multiple wildfires in California, an alert warning of poor air quality remains in effect for much of the Central Valley, the National Weather Service said.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District warned of poor air quality in Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Kern counties, the east side of the San Joaquin Valley and the Sierra Nevada and foothill areas due to smoke from the Ferguson fire.

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Air pollution control districts in Mariposa and Tuolumne counties have also issued air quality alerts, which will be in effect until the fire is extinguished. The Ferguson fire has scorched 96,457 acres and is 86% contained. The fire has also claimed the lives of a Cal Fire bulldozer operator and a captain of the Arrowhead Interagency Hotshots.

Exposure to particle pollution can cause serious health problems, aggravate lung disease, cause asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and increase risk of respiratory infections, the weather service said.

Across the state, slightly cooler temperatures are helping firefighters get a handle on the wildfires. Humidity is inching upward due to a weakened high-pressure system that forecasters say will persist through Tuesday.

“We’re having a couple of cooler days today and tomorrow, in the upper 90s,” said Jim Bagnall, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford. “Through the latter half the week, [temperatures are] creeping again upwards.”

A photo taken from the International Space Station on Aug. 3 shows the Carr and Ferguson fires.
A photo taken from the International Space Station on Aug. 3 shows the Carr and Ferguson fires. (Alexander Gerst / AFP/Getty Images)

In Southern California, firefighters were making headway on the Holy fire burning in the Cleveland National Forest near Lake Elsinore, raising the containment estimate to 52% on Monday.

Firefighters also made progress on the Mendocino Complex fire, the largest recorded in California history, which had burned more than 344,890 acres as of Monday morning. The blaze, which is made up of the Ranch and River fires, has destroyed 147 homes and is now 68% contained, officials said.

Containment of the 202,976-acre Carr fire in Redding has reached 61%. That fire has destroyed almost 1,600 structures, including 1,077 homes, and threatened 528 others.

Eight people have died in connection with the Carr fire. They include a Cal Fire mechanic, four Redding residents, a Redding firefighter, a bulldozer operator and a Pacific Gas & Electric utility worker.

On Sunday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke toured neighborhoods devastated by the flames.

“The president’s right,” Zinke said. “We have to actively manage our forests.”

President Trump has tweeted that California wildfires “are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized.”

“It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear stop fire spreading!” Trump tweeted.

The brunt of Trump’s tweet attempts to tie the fires ravaging Northern California to complaints by members of the state’s Republican congressional delegation concerning environmental protections that have reduced water deliveries to San Joaquin Valley agriculture. The president’s assertion has been declared incorrect by a number of experts.

Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, walked through an area where a “fire tornado” tipped over a soaring transmission tower, tore tiles off the roofs of homes and uprooted massive trees. In one spot, a fence post was bent around a tree, with the bark on one side sheared off.

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The devastation was on par with the scenes he saw during his time in Iraq, he said.

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