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September 30, 2020

Salinas Valley air quality degrades to ‘unhealthy’ levels as Dolan Fire spreads

Fire agencies move incident command base to fairgrounds in King City

SALINAS VALLEY — Air quality in the Salinas Valley diminished over the past week as the Dolan Fire continues to spread through Los Padres National Forest’s Ventana Wilderness and northern areas of Fort Hunter Liggett.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, conditions had degraded to “unhealthy” levels for several days. As of Wednesday, the air quality improved to “moderate” and “good” levels on the Air Quality Index.

“A high pressure system remains in place over the fire, with a marine layer along the coast that spreads up the Salinas Valley,” the Forest Service said in its smoke outlook Tuesday. “Expect limited visibility along the Coast Hwy, Salinas Valley, and low lying areas where smoke and fog mix — especially during dusk, dawn and overnight.”

Cal Fire issued a smoke advisory Tuesday for Monterey County due to the ongoing fires throughout the state.

“Winds from the south will push much of the smoke produced from the Dolan Fire into parts of Monterey County,” Cal Fire said. “As a result, many inland areas will see heavier smoke. Smoke from other wildfires burning throughout the state, in combination with Dolan Fire smoke, may also produce a light haze in the area. Poor air quality will continue due to the lingering smoke in the atmosphere and will dissipate with time.”

Smoke from remnant heat in the River Fire, which has been fully contained south of Salinas, dropped to Gonzales last week, the Forest Service reported. In addition, smoke from the Dolan Fire burnout operations near Fort Hunter Liggett flowed into Soledad and King City as well.

Fire containment continues

The Dolan Fire, which originated about 10 miles south of Big Sur off Highway 1, has burned 119,488 acres and destroyed 19 structures. It is 40% contained as of Tuesday morning.

More than 800 personnel have been assigned to the wildfire, which is now under unified command with Cal Fire and Fort Hunter Liggett.

“This will improve coordination and add personnel to suppression efforts across the fire,” the Forest Service said.

Since much of the fire activity has shifted east and southeast, an incident command base has been set up at the Salinas Valley Fairgrounds in King City, which will “reduce travel and put support personnel closer to firefighters on the line,” according to the Forest Service.

Firefighters from San Diego gather for breakfast Tuesday morning at the Salinas Valley Fairgrounds parking lot in King City before heading out to fight the Dolan Fire. (Sean Roney/Staff)

Southwest winds were expected to challenge firefighters again Tuesday, pushing fire into the Arroyo Seco drainage. The Forest Service said resources from Cal Fire would add capacity to the structure protection work in Arroyo Seco as well as assist with the construction of containment lines on the east side of the fire.

“Structure protection work continues in the Arroyo Seco area with both federal forces and Cal Fire preparing those structures in case fire pushes into the Arroyo Seco drainage. Helicopters will cool hot spots as smoke conditions allow,” the Forest Service said Tuesday. “Firefighters will continue working to keep fire south and east of the river. There are no plans for a burnout operation from Arroyo Seco at this time unless wind and weather conditions push fire managers to execute a contingency plan to burnout around that area for the safety of the public and to protect private property.”

Dozers from Cal Fire and Fort Hunter Liggett are continuing the construction of a fire line from Arroyo Seco, along the base of Pine Canyon, and using the 2008 Indian Fire scar as a control feature.

“These fire lines will eventually be used as the perimeter of a large burnout operation to prevent the fire from moving farther east into Pine Canyon,” the Forest Service said.

Fire activity over the weekend remained “minimal,” the Forest Service reported, due to cooler temperatures and higher relative humidity levels, but there was more moderate behavior around Nacimiento Campground.

“Firefighters made good progress constructing fire line between Prewitt Ridge along McKern and Nacimiento-Fergusson roads yesterday,” the Forest Service said Tuesday. “The critical piece of ground connects the existing black contained fire perimeter along roads to Highway 1 in preparation for a burnout operation that is intended to prevent the fire from moving south.”

Firefighters work to secure the Dolan Fire line along Nacimiento-Fergusson Road last Friday. (Kent Romney/USFS)

Evacuation center expands

An evacuation center set up at the King City Library has expanded its schedule to provide resources and other assistance for residents who are evacuating from the Dolan Fire.

“Monterey County is expanding its support for Dolan Fire evacuees as potentially new and existing emergency notifications could be in place for some time,” said Maia Carroll, the county’s communications coordinator.

Monterey County opened the center last week as multiple evacuation orders and warnings were issued for areas west of Greenfield and King City due to the wildfire’s increased activity in the Santa Lucia Mountains. Those orders and warnings remain in effect this week.

A roadside checkpoint is set up just past the intersection of Arroyo Seco Road and Elm Avenue in Greenfield on Sept. 9. The region is part of Zone 24, a mandatory evacuation zone due to the Dolan Fire. (Sean Roney/Staff)

The library, 402 Broadway St., is now serving as a Temporary Evacuation Point, in addition to its role as an evacuation center. Staffing has increased to allow the center to be open during the daytime, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. The center had been open 24 hours a day beginning last Thursday but was scaled back on Saturday.

Evacuees who need assistance outside of those hours should call 831-385-3677.

For those leaving the fire zones, the center offers housing assistance, such as hotel accommodations or vouchers for evacuees who plan to shelter in their RVs. There are RV parking spaces at the fairgrounds in King City or Laguna Seca Recreation Area in Salinas, depending on availability and preference.

Monterey County offers an interactive fire map for residents to find which zone they live in at www.co.monterey.ca.us/2020Fires.

Ryan Cronk
Ryan Cronk
Ryan Cronk is the managing editor for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers education, government and general news for King City and occasionally for the surrounding communities in South Monterey County.
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