Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Smoke--Can't Escape it: August 2021

View from our driveway as we left our house on 8/27/2021
Power on demand, clean water, and clean air are three things that allow life to be more pleasant. I've lived in less developed countries where the infrastructure doesn't adequately support those three conveniences that I used to take for granted. Living in California these are things that I have taken as a given until recently. Now, power during "Fire Season" is not something that we can always depend upon. We don't have a generator for those times when our electricity supplier, Pacific Gas and Electric, cuts power during high wind or high fire danger periods. Our refrigerator's freezer is crammed full of frozen containers so that when power is cut, the refrigerator can be an ice chest in order to preserve what little food we keep in there. We have flashlights and LED lanterns. Our stove and hot water run on propane. We can make due without electricity for a few days.

Our water is good but we're in a drought. The drought has increased the fire danger everywhere in the West, but most especially in California. El Dorado County's water system is distributed from the upper elevations by some newer concrete flumes and some older wooden flumes. The Caldor fire damaged sections of wooden flumes 4, 5 and 6 located 22 miles east of Placerville. The water company has asked customers to reduce water use by 15% from the prior year. Reservoir water is being used to fight the Caldor Fire. 

And, then there is the issue of clean air. We've been trying almost since the Caldor Fire began (8/14/21 at 7:00pm) to install equipment to scrub/clean our interior air to a tolerable level. Nothing, so far, has worked. The air quality in our house became so dangerous that we fled. 

On August 19, our HVAC company installed a Halo-LED apparatus inside our cooling/heating ducts. I had it installed because I was told that the maker's research showed that it reduced smoke odors by 70% and caused the particulates to clump together so they would be stopped by our return air filters. The next day I could tell that the Halo-LED wasn't doing the job. Unfortunately, I didn't have a baseline air quality number prior to the installation. I did subsequently buy an AQ monitor which showed me that the interior air quality was about 50% of the outside AQ readings.

Multiple calls to the HVAC company yielded nothing. Sometimes the phone wasn't answered and if it was, messages weren't returned.

We covered the louvers of our whole-house fan with plastic and taped up all the edges just in case that was a point of entry for bad air. We found another area outside and covered it with plastic and duct tape. We bought a MERV 13 filter to catch fine particulates in our HVAC's return air.

I bought a super-duper Air Purification Filter highly rated by Consumer Reports specifically for handling wildfire smoke and particulates. It arrived on 8/25 and might be helping the interior air quality, but not enough. 

8/24/21
Interior AQ 220 6:09 am
Exterior AQ 500 (maximum for monitor) 6:09 am
Interior AQ 40 2:46 pm
Exterior AQ 74 2:49 pm


8/25/21
Exterior AQ 440 6:22 am
Interior AQ 207 6:28 am

We live 12 miles west of the edge of the Caldor Fire. In the morning around 11:00 am, winds from the west blow the smoke from the Caldor Fire east and bring our outside air quality down as the hours pass. By the time we're ready for bed, the outside and inside air quality are very decent. Inside, the reading is in the 20-50 AQI range. Outside it is double that. At this point, we move the portable air purifier, rated to clean 1300 sq feet in a half hour, up to our bedroom.

Around 8:00 pm the wind begins to change so it is blowing from the east to the west and at the same time, it pushes the smoke from the fire toward us and anyone living west of the fire. Around 3:00 am the air quality in our bedroom heads toward really bad. By the time we wake, the air quality is rated very unhealthy.

AQI Basics for Ozone and Particle Pollution
Daily AQI ColorLevels of ConcernValues of IndexDescription of Air Quality
GreenGood0 to 50Air quality is satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk.
YellowModerate51 to 100Air quality is acceptable. However, there may be a risk for some people, particularly those who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.
OrangeUnhealthy for Sensitive Groups101 to 150Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is less likely to be affected.
RedUnhealthy151 to 200Some members of the general public may experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.
PurpleVery Unhealthy201 to 300Health alert: The risk of health effects is increased for everyone.
MaroonHazardous301 and higherHealth warning of emergency conditions: everyone is more likely to be affected.

On Friday, August 27, when I woke the air quality in our bedroom was 272 even with the Halo-LED contraption installed in our cooling/heating ducts and the air purifier blowing right next to our bed and the monitor.

6:22 am 8/27/21

7:22 am 8/27/21

The Koki Lane AQI monitor is the one that shows up closest to our house. We compare it to the monitor readings for Placerville and for Diamond Springs.

7:28 am 8/27/21

The air purifier was schlepped downstairs to the dining room. The air quality monitor showed our downstairs air was "hazardous" at 359. The outside AQI for Koki Lane was 842, Placerville 686, Diamond Springs 819. As the wind continued to push smoke toward us, the monitor inside eventually got to its maximum reading of 500. 

When the interior air is bad, we've been wearing N95 masks to limit our exposure to the particulates. This morning, I realized that our cats were not acting like themselves. Both were curled up and lethargic. We found a hotel in Sacramento that would take pets and we abandoned our home for at least five nights. 

10:43 am 8/27/21

Looking down the street as we left
Syd and Pandora were pretty good in their carriers for several miles and then the chorus of meows began. Dan freed them from their carriers. Syd climbed on top of his so he could observe his surroundings. Pandora kept looking for a place to hide. 

Once we were all in our room at the Residence Inn, it was the same. Syd explored and Pandora hid. Pandora will come out for food that I then have to serve her under the bed. 

Pandora

Syd, Master of the Universe

Pandora does come out at night when there are less people noises outside. While we're trying to sleep, they are everywhere. I hear them running over the sofa and play fighting on both sides of it. It is away from the wall now because that was the only way we could extricate amorphous little Pandora from the underside of it. Last night, I kept hearing strange noises, but every time I opened my eyes they were both on the bed. This morning, I found the baggie of cat treats ripped open on the floor. I had the cat treats and the tetra packages of Pandora's food on top the refrigerator to keep them safe from cat teeth. Some cat, managed to find the treats last night. Now all is safely stored inside the refrigerator.

On Friday, 8/27/21, afternoon I did email the HVAC company again because no once was answering my calls. I asked to have the Halo-LED contraption removed and asked for my money to be returned. The owner called me. He said he has the same unit in his house and "it kicks butt." He suggested that somewhere in our house the outer air was being pulled into the house; he said he will have someone look at our HVAC system ducts on Monday afternoon. 

Yesterday (Saturday), we left the cats in the hotel room and drove back to Placerville so Dan could get a prescription refill and also stopped in at our house where the interior air was still intolerable. The photo was taken around 3pm and while the image doesn't look too bad, visibility in Placerville was only 4 miles.



The few times we've been out and about in our area, we've seen firefighting vehicles from Redondo Beach, Redwood Coast, Redwood Valley, Hopland, South Coast (Gulala), San Marcos in addition to Forestry, CalFire, and local companies. The number of firefighters has grown to more than 3,300 individuals. I cannot imagine doing their job, ever! Thanks to all of those brave individuals who are trying to keep our county safe. 

August 30, Monday afternoon, we met the HVAC guys at our house. Exterior air was really good because a strong wind (Fire Watch Weather) was pushing the smoke east and feeding the fire's eastern side. Inside, our house smells like someone had a campfire in there. After checking the Halo-LED apparatus, they found that it was working as it should. Our new filters were covered with clumped dust. They sealed an opening in the upstairs return air duct. The finding was that our house is a sieve. All the openings for ceiling light cans, our attic opening, etc all invite the dirty air into our house. They kindly made suggestions about who we could contact to fix the issues in our house. 

Diamond Springs is one of the main areas where early on those evacuated from the fire were placed. Some are in tents and some in RVs. Firefighters wear no protective breathing equipment. Marshall Hospital is overrun with respiratory issues and Covid positive cases. On Sunday, August 29, Barton Hospital in South Lake Tahoe basin was evacuated due to the fire's rapid movement east. On this day another 25,000 acres burned. All or most of South Lake Tahoe is evacuated because the fire as it moves east has now moved over the crest of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Almost 200,000 acres have been burned. Parts of Douglas County (just over the border into Nevada) are now under evacuation orders as well.

I haven't updated the Covid situation for El Dorado County since the end of May when there was a cumulative total of 10295 positive Covid-19 cases and 113 deaths. The last three months have brought the cumulative positive Covid-19 cases to 13590 and 122 deaths. The difference of 3295 positive cases for a 3-month period is a big spike in numbers but masks aren't worn, restaurants are serving indoors, there is no social distancing, and just 50.7% are fully vaccinated. On this last day of August, our local hospital has 27 Covid cases with 10 in the ICU. It is full.

August 2021 has been packed with so many large, tragic events: earthquake in Haiti, the US departure from Afghanistan, the Dixie Fire, the Caldor Fire, east coast and gulf coast floods and hurricanes. Just too many tragedies at once to absorb!

I had hoped to edit my photos and update my travel journal for our June trip to Eastern Washington State, but I haven't been able to focus on that long enough. Dan had his first cataract surgery the first week of August and the 3rd week he had the second eye done. His vision is greatly improved and so far he doesn't need glasses for distance or closeup. 

While it's hard to recall what else was going on in the first 15 days of August, these last 16 days will be forever burned into my memory. As the fire moves east, the air quality at our house has gotten better. We returned home to blue skies the evening of August 31. Crossed fingers that we can tolerate the air tomorrow morning which would be really bad news for those in the Tahoe Basin.

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