The Windy Fire and KNP Complex fires burning through Sequoia National Park sent wildfire smoke into the Central Coast beginning Thursday, although officials said wind patterns began pushing smoke away from San Luis Obispo starting Monday.
On Thursday, winds blowing southwest sent wildfire smoke to Santa Barbara County from the 88,068-acre Windy Fire and the 49,349-acre KNP Complex Fires, Lisa Phillips, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Los Angeles office, said.
Much of that wildfire smoke dissipated further south into Ventura and Los Angeles counties, Phillips said. Some of it also spread up north into San Luis Obispo County.
Winds blowing southwest brought the worst of the wildfire smoke on Friday. The majority of San Luis Obispo County had good air quality readings compared to Santa Barbara County.
However, Red Hills and Carrizo recorded moderate air quality that day, Meghan Field, a spokesperson and air quality specialist with the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District, said.
Typically, wildfire smoke sends fine particulate matter pollution into the air — fine particles smaller than fine sand that can cause a range of respiratory health issues if inhaled. The pollution district’s air monitors are equipped to pick up those tiny particles.
Larger ash, like the sizable particles San Luis Obispo residents woke up to seeing on their cars Saturday morning were too big for the monitors to pick up, Field said.
If residents see ash floating during the day, Field said she advises staying indoors and away from the ash.
“Luckily a lot of the ash fell overnight and that’s good because people aren’t out and about at that time,” Field said.
Over the next week, the Central Coast’s winds will push smoke further southwest, away from San Luis Obispo.
“People should be noticing things aren’t as bad as they were,” Phillips said.
Forestry junior Assata Golash was outside the Bonderson Engineering Center on Friday morning with a group of peers at a climate conference, as they all noticed a red-orange sun and gray skies.
Goulash said her group noted the irony of being at an event focused on climate change while witnessing wildfire smoke dim the morning sky.
Golash said it reminded her of how far she was from the brunt of the wildfires raging in the Sequoia National Park — which felt like a privilege. It also reminded her of how despite being so far from the wildfires, its smoke still had an impact.
“It’s kind of like a sign that a lot of other people are experiencing smoke in other areas of California,” Golash said. “It’s a reminder of everything that’s going on.”
On Saturday morning, Cal Poly Professor Anurag Pande hiked Bishop Peak. It’s usually a two-three hour trek and, with the sun out, a good sweat.
But on Saturday, the hike was cooler than usual, likely a combination of San Luis Obispo’s marine layer and wildfire smoke covering the sky.
Pande said he’s used to seeing the sun when he hikes Bishop Peak but this time, he could barely see it when he got to the top.
It wasn’t until he started the trek down from Bishop Peak, Pande said, that a red sun peeked out from behind the gray sky.