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Poor air quality prompts Sonoma County school closures

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As smoke from the raging Camp fire in Butte County continues to fill Sonoma County skies and taint air quality, officials announced the closure of all Sonoma County school districts Friday.

As of 7:45 a.m., an Sonoma County Office of Education spokeswoman announced all school districts in Sonoma County are closed either because of air quality concerns or for pre-scheduled staff development days. Dunham and Liberty school districts in Petaluma were closed for staff development.

Sonoma State University and Santa Rosa Junior College also were shut down Friday amid smoky conditions from the Camp fire.

“The air quality is nearing the hazardous range, and we believe it is safer for students and staff to remain indoors,” Santa Rosa City Schools said in a statement Friday morning.

The Camp fire, which ignited Thursday, has devastated 20,000 acres near Chico and promoted evacuations, according to Cal Fire. The fire is more than 100 miles away from Sonoma County.

There were no active fires reported in Sonoma County Friday morning, a Redcom dispatcher said.

The City of Santa Rosa also announced that most of its facilities would be closed Friday in an attempt to safeguard the health and safety of staff and residents, according to a news release. Police and fire stations, transit operations facilities and the Laguna Treatment Plant will remain open.

All scheduled programming, public meetings, and facility rentals will be canceled. Public meetings will be rescheduledl and city staff will contact those who planned to participate in programs and activities to schedule makeup dates, according to the statement.

County of Sonoma offices were slated to remain open, a spokeswoman said.

In neighboring Lake County, all Lake County Office of Education preschools in Lakeport and Kelseyville were closed Friday because of poor air quality, according to a Facebook post from the district. All schools within the Lake County Unified School District and the Kelseyville Unified School District were also closed Friday, according to the statement.

In Mendocino County, Ukiah and Willits Unified School districts were both closed Friday, according to the Mendocino County Office of Education’s Manager of Maintenance and Operations John Havemann. The district’s office in Ukiah also was closed, and adult, alternative and special education programs were canceled, Havemann said.

A Spare the Air Alert was in place for the Bay Area through Friday because of the heavy smoke impacts, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management district.

The EPA rated the air quality in Santa Rosa Friday as unhealthy, advising those with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children to avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. The smoke is causing “very elevated levels” of particulate pollution in the region. A high pressure system coupled with northeasterly winds is quickly pushing smoke into the air and trapping it close to the ground, according to a statement from the district.

Those unhealthy conditions may stretch into early next week, depending on fire behavior and weather conditions, said spokeswoman Kristine Roselius. She advised people to stay inside, with windows and doors closed.

“We’re expecting lighter winds Friday, but strong winds again tomorrow,” she said. “If the fire expands, it will obviously kick out more smoke and the wind conditions are bringing in air from that area.”

Though there are “still very high levels of particulates,” the air quality isn’t as bad as levels measured during last October’s firestorm, Roselius said.

Burning wood, including manufactured fire logs or any other solid fuel, indoors or outdoors, is not allowed.

“Air quality throughout the Bay Area and especially in the North Bay is being heavily impacted by smoke from the fire in Butte County and use of fireplaces ...will make air quality conditions worse,” Jack Broadbent, executive officer of the Bay Area Air District said in a statement Thursday night “To ensure we don’t add to the already smoke-filled air, it is critical to heed this Winter Spare the Air Alert by not burning wood and further contributing to the wildfire smoke in the Bay Area.”