In Fresno, 'Unprecedented Increase' in ER Visits Due to Rough Fire

The Friday morning sun over the KQED office in Fresno which reporter Sasha Khokha described as "bizarrely yellowish-gray." (Sasha Khokha/KQED)

Fresno health officials are alerting county residents to limit all outdoor activities as the Rough Fire "rains ash" on Fresno.

Fresno County's department of public health reports an "unprecedented increase" in emergency room visits. Over the last 72 hours, local ERs have seen:

  • 411 percent increase in visits due to respiratory issues
  • 90 percent increase in visits due to cough

Health officials say that half of the patients affected fall into two groups: those aged 15-24 and those over age 65. KQED's Sasha Khokha reports that even children with healthy lungs are showing up in the ER with burning eyes and a hacking cough.

"It's definitely scary," said Dolores Weller, head of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, an advocacy group. "We've been getting a lot of phone calls from concerned parents, coaches, school officials, and day care centers."

Weller said that many callers were confused because air district monitors are designed to measure fine particulate matter and not larger particulates like ash. So air quality levels measure lower than a reflection of the true risk.

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"If you see ash or smell smoke it is a level 4 hazard," says the alert, "and all outdoor activities should be limited."

In response to the health alert, Fresno Unified School District has canceled all sporting events, including football games, scheduled for Friday evening. All practices, both indoor and outdoor, are also canceled. Fresno Unified's middle school football games are canceled Saturday.

Smoky conditions are expected to continue over the next several days.