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Bad air quality from smoke restricts outdoor activities

A smoky haze sets in over Highway 280. This photo was taken at Vista Point by Crystal Springs Reservoir, over 60 miles from the closest fire. Staff Photo by Bella Scola 

By Ty Corley

Decreasing air quality due to several Northern California fires have caused many outdoor activities at Menlo to be suspended or limited. All outside games were cancelled, including the Friday night football game at Sequoia due to the air quality on October 13. After the air quality continued to decrease into the week of October 9, outdoor activities were moved indoors or cancelled.

Fires have done a great deal of damage to Sonoma county, Napa and the Santa Rosa area in the past weeks. There are hundreds of firefighters fighting to contain the flames in the region. Thousands of people have been evacuated and numerous houses and buildings have burned down. Cardinal Newman School in Santa Rosa has almost completely burnt down.

The smoke from the fires has been taken by strong winds into the Bay Area creating unhealthy air conditions. “The smoke in the air can cause people’s airways to tighten up and they will not be able to receive enough oxygen,” Menlo nurse Joan Barada said. “Symptoms can include headaches and grogginess. People with asthma and other breathing problems are especially more vulnerable to these hazards.”

Towards the end of the week students were urged to stay inside during lunch and other breaks as the air quality became even worse. “Tony Lapolla, Jon Cohen and I have been referring to government agencies to keep track of the air quality,” Barada said. “We have looked at the government recommendations for schools at different AQIs [Air Quality Index]. We also are working doctors and if the air quality gets into hazardous area, we will move everyone inside and shut down practices.”

As the Air Quality Index passed 150, outdoor sports practices were cancelled and in some cases moved inside to the athletic center. According to Barada, strenuous exercise under these unhealthy conditions would be extremely hazardous to the body.

The smoke was forecasted to clear out last weekend, and therefore on Monday, October 16, outdoor activities resumed. However, on Tuesday practices were again cancelled as the air quality moved back into the unhealthy threshold. “It’s important that, under these conditions, students limit outdoor activity and stay inside,” Barada said.

Even though it has been especially difficult for coaches to prepare their teams for upcoming matches and games with limited practice space, they are doing what they can to keep their teams ready. “We have jobs to do, so we concentrate on what we can control and not what we can't,” football defensive coordinator Todd Smith said. “The air issue forced us to capture the importance of spacing while practicing on a limited surface. The team also has talked about how grateful we are and need to be during this unfortunate series of events up North.” The Central Coast Section football regular season was extended one week to accommodate the cancelled games.

Water polo coach Jack Bowen has also dealt with a limited practice schedule as well as having a marquee state tournament cancelled due to the smoke. “People are dying and homes are being burned down due to these fires,” Bowen said. “We need to maintain our perspective on why these games are being cancelled.”

While the cause of the fires is still under investigation, the fires have been mostly contained to this point. The wind has died down and the smoke and bad particles have mostly disappeared from the air. The school will still be monitoring the air quality until the fires are fully contained but until further notice, all outdoor activities have been resumed.

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