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Poor air quality from wildfires expected to last through weekend

Bakersfield residents woke up Friday morning to an eerie yellow glow cast by sunlight filtered through layers of wildfire smoke. It was a telltale sign that poor air quality had returned to the area.

But those hoping for a quick improvement in conditions stand to be disappointed. The National Weather Service forecasts smoky air in Bakersfield through the weekend, although a dramatic improvement is expected on Tuesday.

A wind flowing from the northeast is pushing smoke primarily from the Windy Fire in Tulare County toward Bakersfield. The fire has burned 58,802 acres and was only 5 percent contained as of Friday. The KNP Complex Fire in Sequoia National Park is also contributing to the smoky atmosphere.

“Unfortunately, with those major fires going on it’s just directing the smoke right into the populated parts of the valley,” weather service meteorologist David Spector said. “Bakersfield and Porterville have felt the brunt of it.”

The poor air quality has prompted the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to issue an alert warning residents to stay inside until Monday. The alert says particulate matter from smoke can trigger asthma attacks, aggravate chronic bronchitis, and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Much of Bakersfield wavered between levels 2 and 3 of the air district’s outdoor activity risk guideline, indicating sensitive individuals should first reconsider, then reduce vigorous outdoor activities, respectively.

“If anybody has a respiratory condition, they are feeling it. They can’t really be outside at all,” air district representative Heather Heinks said.

For those needing to work outside, the hot air during the day tends to push particulate matter higher into the atmosphere. That means nighttime brings air quality to its worst point. Earlier this week, Bakersfield air quality rose to Level 4 — unhealthy for all prolonged outside activity — beginning in the evening.

“You often find in the cool hours of the morning it’s really stinky,” Heinks said. “We’re expecting poor conditions throughout the weekend, but there will be potential times of reprieve as those smoke plumes travel.”

Although Bakersfield may be shrouded underneath a plume of smoke, the areas near Isabella Lake are much worse. On Friday, Kernville and Lake Isabella hovered between an air quality index of 150 and 200, classified as unhealthy and very unhealthy, respectively.

Those areas are near the Windy Fire, and are experiencing the worst of the smoke.

Relief is expected to come in the form of a wind from the northwest.

“That’s going to clear everything out and bring much cooler temperatures,” Spector said.

Until then, air quality authorities urge residents to check conditions before participating in outdoor activities.

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Sam Morgen can be reached at 661-395-7415. Follow him on Twitter: @smorgenTBC.