California Fires Update: Smoke Map Video Shows Wildfire Pollution Reaching East Coast

A video using forecast maps shows how the smoke from the various fires in California, including the deadly Camp Fire in Butte County, spread across the United States all the way to the East Coast.   

The Camp Fire, by far the largest wildfire currently burning in California, extends across 152,250 acres, and is 75 percent contained, according to Cal Fire’s latest update. At least 81 people were confirmed dead, with hundreds more missing. More than 12,600 homes were destroyed.

KQED Science, a multimedia science and environmental journalism unit in Northern California, used the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Rapid Refresh modeling system to make a video showing how smoke dispersed over the U.S. from when the Camp Fire started on November 8 to November 19.

Smoke dispersal is modeled using weather data collected from across the country. And it shows how the smoke pollution traveled all the way from California on the West Coast to New York City on the East Coast, where residents experienced a dull haze as a result of the faraway fires.

Another large California fire that started on November 8 is the Woolsey Fire, outside Los Angeles. According to Los Angeles County fire officials, the Woolsey Fire is 96 percent contained and 96,949 acres in size.

Three people died and hundreds of homes were destroyed, including those of celebrities such as Miley Cyrus and Gerard Butler.

The smoke seriously affected air quality in California—particularly in areas hit by the wildfires—and even blocked out the sun.

Camp Fire smoke had reduced local air quality to the point that it was “hazardous,” the worst category of all, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

But it has since improved two notches to “unhealthy” as the fire is increasingly contained and rain in the area washes out the air.  

The rain, however, brings risks. The National Weather Service in Sacramento forecast that rain would spread throughout Northern California on Wednesday.

Heavy rainfall was also expected for Thursday night into Friday, and the National Weather Service cautioned residents that the wet storm systems could increase the risk of mudslides and debris flow.

More heavy rain was expected on Friday morning, along with heavy mountain snow, again increasing the risk of debris flow. From Wednesday until Sunday, the National Weather Service  forecast that parts of California damaged by the Camp Fire could see upwards of 4 inches of rain.

According to The Associated Press, the rain could hinder search and recovery efforts by “washing away fragmentary remains and turning ash into a thick paste.”

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