A nearly 28,000-acre inferno in the hills southwest of Patterson and a similar-sized blaze in Plumas National Forest left local residents under a shroud of smoke this week.
Meanwhile, Patterson firefighters and other area residents helped tackle one of those fires, which devoured more than 1,000 acres in Stanislaus County.
The firestorms left a blanket of smoke over much of the San Joaquin Valley, creating eerie light patterns and difficult breathing conditions.
“The main thing (to remember) is that if you smell smoke or are experiencing smoke, it could be damaging your lungs,” said Anthony Presto, spokesman for the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District’s Modesto office.
As if the smoke wasn’t bad enough, plenty of ozone was also in the air Friday, leading the valley air district to declare it a Spare the Air Day. The district also sent memos to schools, urging them to cancel all athletic events.
As a result, Immanuel High School in Reedley delayed its football match with Patterson High School by almost an hour.
Presto advised children, older residents and people with respiratory problems to stay inside as much as possible. He also urged schools to keep recess and school activities indoors until the smoke clears.
The biggest health threat from smoke, according to district officials, is from microscopic particles, which can get into the eyes and respiratory system.
Though the Lick Fire in eastern Santa Clara County and southwestern Stanislaus County is much closer to Patterson than the Moonlight Fire in Plumas County, Presto said the Plumas fire actually caused most of the local smoke earlier this week.
However, that was likely to change if the direction of the wind shifted, he said.
The Lick Fire, which has been generally confined to Henry Coe State Park in Santa Clara County and southwestern Stanislaus County, destroyed one outbuilding this week and threatened 25 homes and 10 other outbuildings, such as barns or chicken coops.
County officials said about 1,000 acres had been consumed earlier this week, but more detailed information was not available Friday.
The blaze started inside the park after a fire in a burn barrel near Booze Lake got out of hand, said John Amos, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s Santa Clara unit. The people who caused the fire have come forward to talk to investigators, Amos said.
Much of the Stanislaus County portion of the fire has been along a ridgeline in areas that are not easily accessible, explained Deborah Thrasher, emergency services coordinator with the county’s Office of Emergency Services.
Amos said the Stanislaus County portion of the fire was burning near Orestimba Creek.
Stanislaus County sent two strike teams to battle the blaze, including 10 engines, two staff vehicles and 37 firefighters.
A West Stanislaus Fire Protection District engine, crewed by a Newman firefighter and a volunteer and paid staff member from the Patterson Fire Department, also was deployed to the fire Thursday, West Stanislaus Division Chief Steve Hall said. Three replacements from the Patterson Fire Department were sent to help Friday.
Meanwhile, Cal Fire on Monday sent an engine, a bulldozer and five firefighters from its Del Puerto office on Sperry Avenue.
Both Patterson Fire Department and the Patterson Cal Fire station remained fully manned this week, despite the departures.
About 1,825 firefighters and 50 crews had responded to the Lick Fire as of Friday. Firefighters had the blaze 35 percent contained Friday morning, according to Cal Fire.
“We’ll get it,” Amos said. “We’ve got our arms wrapped around it. Soon, we’ll stamp it out.”
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