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California fire has made the air so bad it’s blotting out the sun and cooling the ground

California fire has made the air so bad it’s blotting out the sun and cooling the ground
Smoke fills the sky as the Camp fire continues to burn along the North Fork of the Feather River. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The smoke from California’s deadliest fire is so thick that it’s blotting out the sun and lowering surface temperatures by as much as 10 degrees, according to the U.S. National Weather Service.

The area around the Camp fire is so bad that all those venturing outdoors in the cities of Gridley and Chico without a surgical-grade respirator are putting themselves at risk, according to AirNow, the U.S. air-quality-tracking agency created by the Environmental Protection Agency.

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The air in the immediate vicinity of the fire is considered “hazardous” — the worst it can be — and the poorest in the U.S. AirNow has an “unhealthy” rating for the air from Sacramento to Livermore, and it’s only a little better for San Francisco.

The smoke is so thick “it prevents the sunlight from reaching the surface,” said Hannah Chandler-Cooley, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento. “It prevents surface heating.”

Poor air quality will likely linger through next week before a weather pattern shifts, potentially blowing the smoke to the east, Chandler-Cooley said by telephone. Things could improve sooner if firefighters manage to contain more of the blaze, which has scorched 140,000 acres, destroyed thousands of homes and killed at least 63 people.

High temperatures in the Chico area reached the upper 50s Wednesday, below the normal 60s, she said.

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