South County fire departments organize donations for North Bay fires

Gathering donations

When a South County fire department put out a call for donations for victims of the recent North Bay fires, firefighters were welcomed with an outpouring from area residents.

On Monday, Oct. 16, staff of the Gilroy Fire Department Local 2805 carried two truckloads of donated hygiene supplies, clothing, food and other donations to North Bay locations, according to Gilroy firefighter Chris Teresi.

On the way to their first drop-off point in Petaluma, the convoy—with one trailer already loaded with donated supplies—stopped at the home of Carrie and Peng Lim in northwest Morgan Hill. The couple had a garage full of donated items for the fire victims, collected from students and families of the Charter School of Morgan Hill, Carrie Lim said.

Teresi said shortly after the IAFF Local 1165 Firefighter Union posted on social media that it was accepting donated items, the firefighters were flooded with support. At one point, there was a line of cars outside the Gilroy Fire Department’s Chestnut Street station with residents dropping off donations. The generosity came from as far away as Monterey, Teresi said.

“Everybody wanted to do something,” said Teresi, who noted that the convoy of supplies was transported by truck and trailers donated by George Chiala Farms in Morgan Hill.

As of Oct. 15, four major fires in Napa and Sonoma counties—the Tubbs, Pocket, Nuns and Oakmont Fires—had burned more than 94,000 acres, destroyed more than 3,300 homes and killed 40 people, according to authorities.

The emergency has drawn resources from all over the state to help extinguish the blazes, help with the cleanup and recovery effort and control traffic and crowds. Convoys of military vehicles and fire engines have been seen traveling north on U.S. 101 through South County since last week.

This past weekend, two officers from the Morgan Hill Police Department—Cpl. Scott Martin and Officer Eric Adams—were deployed to the North Bay area to help with the public safety response, according to Sgt. Carson Thomas. In general, the officers’ duties during the emergency include “help prevent looting, safeguard homes and assist with evacuations,” according to a Morgan Hill Police Department Facebook post.

hed: Wildfires impact air quality, health

The fires have also resulted in significant air quality impacts in Morgan Hill and South County. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has issued “Spare The Air” alerts and health advisories for several days, starting last week and continuing at least until Oct. 18, according to the district’s website.

The health advisories are asking residents to stay indoors and avoid extensive outdoor activity until the air clears up. Elderly people and residents with existing health conditions—such as asthma, COPD, emphysema and heart disease—are particularly vulnerable, according to the BAAQMD website.

During Spare The Air alerts, residents are advised not to contribute to the diminished air quality by burning wood, mowing grass and even barbecuing.

The alerts and advisories have extended all the way past Morgan Hill, but the impact is expected to wane by the end of this week. The five-day BAAQMD air quality forecast for Santa Clara Valley shows the air returning to “good” on Oct. 20 and 21. Until then, the air quality is expected to be in the “moderate” range.

But these forecasts can change quickly, depending on the direction of the wind and the amount of new smoke in the air. For example, a new wildfire in the Santa Cruz mountains west of Morgan Hill, which started burning Oct. 17, could add to the harmful particles in the air here, according to BAAQMD spokesman Aaron Richardson.

“Things are really blowing around today,” Richardson said Oct. 17. “It’s worse than we expected initially.”

Richardson added that authorities are hopeful that a low-pressure weather front moving into the area by Thursday will “clear things out.”

The most harmful particles in the air that emanate from heavy wood smoke are too small to see with the naked eye. Authorities are generally concerned when there is an abundance of particles that are 2.5 microns or smaller, or about one-seventh the width of a human hair, Richardson explained.

“They’re small enough that they’re inhalable, and can penetrate deep into the respiratory system, and even the bloodstream,” Richardson said. “They can bypass the body’s defense mechanisms, and penetrate really deeply.”

Compounding the risk is the possibility that “other chemicals” burning within the offending fires might also get into the air. “If there are other chemicals, they can attach to these fine (smoke) particles and get carried deep into the body. With a fire like this (in the North Bay), it’s hard to tell what those chemicals would be,” Richardson added.

He also noted that for most people, adverse health effects are likely only during long-term exposure to fine smoke particles and other contaminants in the air. Recent reports of poor air quality are only a short-term concern in the Bay Area, Richardson noted.

“Given that, the truth is there are short-term effects, especially for people with existing health conditions,” he said. “They’re even linked, in some cases, to heart attacks.”