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Burning of fields causes bad air days
The heavy smoke greeting Yuma-area residents as they awoke Tuesday morning originated from a controlled burn of agricultural fields.
The burn, located near the Arizona-California border north of Yuma Palms Regional Center, was conducted under the supervision of Rural/Metro.
“This is what's called a prescribed burn,” said Charly McMurdie, Rural/Metro public information officer. “When a property owner has some brush, trees, etc., that needs to be burned and does not want to do it on their own, they ask us to do it.”
The controlled burn began Monday morning and continued for a few hours. Crews then started the second portion of the burn Tuesday morning and have since completed the entire process.
Very calm winds under 5 mph throughout Monday night and Tuesday morning were not enough to disperse the smoke, which enveloped the northern portion of the city of Yuma. (Weather information supplied by AccuWeather.com.)
According to airnow.gov, a website operated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, healthy residents are not usually at a major risk from short-term exposure to smoke. However, “it's a good idea to avoid breathing smoke if you can help it.”.
According to the website, smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and microscopic particles produced when wood and other organic matter burn.
The biggest health threat from smoke comes from microscopic particles created in the fire that can get into the eyes and respiratory system of those exposed, causing health issues such as burning eyes, runny nose and bronchitis.
Fine particles can also aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases and have been linked to premature deaths in people with these conditions.
In addition to those with respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), coronary artery disease or asthma, those most at risk from smoky conditions include the elderly and young children.
According to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality's index, the air quality in the Yuma area is expected to worsen slightly both Wednesday and Thursday but should remain at moderate levels.
The index includes six levels: good (green), moderate (yellow), unhealthy for sensitive groups (orange), unhealthy (red), very unhealthy (purple) and hazardous (maroon). The air quality index for the Yuma area is updated daily and can be viewed online at www.azdeq.gov/environ/air/ozone/yumef.pdf.
Smoky conditions remain on the horizon as farmers prepare their fields for planting in the spring months. Part of the preparation includes burning the remnants of vegetation from the last crop rotation in order to help return nutrients into the soil, McMurdie explained.
“It is the beginning of our busy season.”
In the coming weeks, many scheduled controlled burns will be carried out all over Yuma County as weather permits, which may lead to hazy conditions.
On days when a large amount of smoke hangs in the air due to controlled burns, Yuma-area residents can take precautions to ensure their health.
According to airnow.gov, if it is smoky outside, it's not a good time to mow the lawn, go for a run or play. Anyone who must be outside should make an effort to reduce any prolonged or strenuous activity.
If residents are advised to stay indoors, they should take steps to keep the air in their homes as clean as possible by keeping their windows and doors closed. Residents should avoid using anything that burns, such as wood fireplaces, gas logs, gas stoves and candles. They should also not vacuum their homes because that stirs up particles already inside the home.
Residents should also run an air conditioner if one is available and make sure to keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent bringing additional smoke inside.
In extremely hot weather, residents who do not have an air conditioner should seek alternative shelter.
For more information, go to http://airnow.gov or www.azdeq.gov/environ/air/index.html.