Bakersfield and other communities on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley should get a break from the unhealthy wildfire smoke that has blanketed the region for days on end.

But the respite will be short-lived, said National Weather Service Meteorologist Bill South, who works out of the weather service's Hanford station.

"Winds will begin pushing the smoke from the northeast toward the southwest," South said. "Away from the east side of the valley.

"Draw a line down the center of the valley," he said. "The west side (Taft, for example) will get worse, the east side will improve."

But by Thursday, northwesterly winds — which are predominant in the valley — are expected to return, bringing the smoke back to the valley's east side.

The expected improvement in local air quality has prompted the Golden Empire Transit District, starting Wednesday, to suspend the free rides it has been offering to riders. All GET services will begin charging fares again Wednesday. But when the Air Quality Index rises above 150, free bus rides will resume.

In the meantime, all valley residents should be monitoring air quality.

According to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, valley residents who can smell smoke and see ash should trust their instincts by treating air quality conditions as unhealthy.

Another way to monitor air quality is to use RAAN, the air district's Real-Time Air Advisory Network. This online system helps valley residents keep track of the air quality in their communities in real time. It is easily accessible on the air district's website.

But our first line of defense should include our senses, said valley air district spokeswoman Heather Heinks.

"Don't question what your eyes and nose are telling you," she said.

If you smell smoke, you should go inside. If you see ash, do the same.

"Our monitors report the tiny, microscopic stuff," she said.

That's PM2.5, microscopic particulate matter so small it is 1/30th the diameter of a human hair. When you breathe it in, these tiny particles can become lodged in the deepest parts of your lungs. They are so small they can even migrate into the bloodstream.

Limit your outdoor activities, Heinks said. Especially children and people who suffer from chronic heart and lung diseases.

"It's not a good time to be outside running," she said.

Poor air quality is already a given this time of year when high-pressure weather systems lead to summer heat waves and conditions that keep pollutants contained in the valley. The wildfire smoke adds yet another layer of concern.

According to a news release from the U.S. Forest Service, most of California remains under the threat of unprecedented and dangerous fire conditions with a combination of extreme heat, significant wind events, dry conditions and firefighting resources that are stretched to the limit.

Due to these conditions, the following temporary closures and fire restrictions are in effect and will be re-evaluated daily as conditions change.

1. Closure of the following National Forests: Stanislaus National Forest, Sierra National Forest, Sequoia National Forest, Inyo National Forest, Los Padres National Forest, Angeles National Forest, San Bernardino National Forest, and Cleveland National Forest.

2. Prohibition of the use of any ignition source on all National Forest System lands, including campfires and gas stoves, throughout California.

3. Closure of all developed campgrounds and day-use sites on National Forests in California.

"The wildfire situation throughout California is dangerous and must be taken seriously," Randy Moore, regional forester for the Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Region, stated in the release.

"Existing fires are displaying extreme fire behavior, new fire starts are likely, weather conditions are worsening, and we simply do not have enough resources to fully fight and contain every fire," he said . "We are bringing every resource to bear."

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

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