Unhealthy air impacting school activities

The poor air quality that seems to have settled in the Mountain Area, due to the Rough Fire, has forced school routines to be altered.

Oak Creek Intermediate School has been restricting outdoor activities for a couple weeks. These physical restrictions are based on: “ ... if we can smell, smoke, we restrict activities,” Principal Brad Barcus said.

There was no weekly mile run or rigorous PE activities, and after-school football practice has been canceled. The library and computer lab are open, and for those students who want to play outside to shoot hoops, they are reminded to take it easy.

Oakhurst Elementary School staff have monitored the daily air quality alerts from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

“The last two days, we’ve canceled recess and PE,” OES Principal Kathleen Murphy said. “There have been other days when the smoke from the Rough Fire blew into our area, so we called a Smoky Day Schedule, which restricts outdoor activities.”

During the morning recess, the students gather in the multi-purpose room for group singing and indoor PE activities. At lunch, they eat indoors, and then can return to their classrooms to read or draw.

Prior to last weekend, the smoke seemed to be hit-or-miss. Murphy said that she and her husband even enjoyed a day of biking over the Labor Day weekend.

“On Saturday, we biked from Nelder Grove to Tenaya and it was gorgeous,” Murphy said. “Then, on Sunday morning, there was a cloud of smoke and haze overhead. Since then, we’ve all been suffering with this heavy smoke. We’re hoping El Niño kicks in soon ... we really need the rain.”

Naturally, with the lingering heavy haze, outdoor sports have been postponed. The tennis match between Yosemite and Liberty high schools was canceled. The match was scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 10, at YHS. On a day when Deadwood was hidden because of the thick haze, an OCI football game was postponed. Rivergold Elementary School in Coarsegold also canceled after school sports on Thursday, and a boys football game scheduled the following day.

“When the Rough Fire started creating bad air quality in our area about two weeks ago, we began monitoring the air concentration value through the forest service and National Park Service,” Rivergold Principal Bob Rose said. “The sensor is in North Fork, which measures the air quality index (AQI), and we make adjustments throughout the day according to these levels.”

When AQI levels are lower, students are allowed outside but are cautioned to reduce activity; and should students notice a sensitivity to the air, they then have the option of going to the library. When the air quality worsens, a Rainy Day Schedule is called, where the students eat in the cafeteria, and then return to class. It’s then up to the teacher as to how the remaining lunch time will be spent.

Rose said that there have only been a couple days this week that the students were kept inside all day because of the poor air.

The Rough Fire, which began July 31 because of a lightning strike, has grown to 119,0694 acres and is currently the largest active fire in California, the eighth largest in the country. There are 2,229 personnel assigned to this fire, which was only at 29% containment as of Sept. 11.