Images from NASA have shown the smoke from wildfires stretching more than 1,200 miles across California, and even into Nevada and as far as Idaho, which is separated by a state from California. The smoke from the wildfires, which has forced 60,000 people to leave their homes in California, is billowing northeast to southwest, according to NASA.
The space agency also warned that apart from the obvious dangers surrounding wildfires, they can invisibly affect one’s health.
Fire of all kinds releases smoke containing carbon monoxide carbon dioxide and particulate matter (PM or soot).
If these particles make their way into the lungs, it can lead to serious health problems such as respiratory irritation and shortness of breath.
In severe cases, it can lead to death.
NASA said on its website: “Smoke can contain many different chemicals, including aldehydes, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, toluene, styrene, metals and dioxins.
“The type and amount of particles and chemicals in smoke varies depending on what is burning, how much oxygen is available, and the burn temperature.
“Exposure to high levels of smoke should be avoided. Individuals are advised to limit their physical exertion if exposure to high levels of smoke cannot be avoided.
“Individuals with cardiovascular or respiratory conditions (e.g., asthma), fetuses, infants, young children, and the elderly may be more vulnerable to the health effects of smoke exposure.”
NASA’s Terra satellite has been on hand to measure the Aerosol Optical Depth (AOD) (or Aerosol Optical Thickness) of the smoke.
According to data from the satellite, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, parts of San Francisco and into Idaho are where the most smoke is congregating.
NASA’s Worldview site explained: “Aerosols scatter and absorb incoming sunlight, which reduces visibility.
“From an observer on the ground, an AOD of less than 0.1 is ‘clean’ (lightest yellow) – characteristic of clear blue sky, bright sun and maximum visibility.
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“As AOD increases to 0.5, 1.0, and greater than 3.0, aerosols become so dense that sun is obscured (ranging from yellow to dark red on the scale).
“Sources of aerosols include pollution from factories, smoke from fires, dust from dust storms, sea salt, and volcanic ash and smog.
“Aerosols compromise human health when inhaled by people, particularly those with asthma or other respiratory illnesses.
“Aerosols also have an effect on the weather and climate by cooling or warming the Earth, helping or preventing clouds from forming.”
At least five people have been confirmed dead, including a helicopter pilot whose craft crashed as he attempted to drop water on the fires.
Up to 10,000 homes are in danger and California’s Governor, Gavin Newsom, called the wildfires a clear evidence of climate change.
He said: “If you are in denial about climate change, come to California.”
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