By Dr. Michael Payne, UC Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine and Director, CDQAP

With the worst of California’s wildfire season just beginning, 25 major blazes have already destroyed 4,200 structures and consumed more than 4 million acres, more than any year on record. At least one northern California dairy cut an emergency fire break in front of an advancing fire front. Even for dairies not directly threatened by flames, the sheer magnitude of the fires can bring challenges, including wildfire smoke and the potential loss of electrical service.

Smoke Exposure to Employees

Much of the Central Valley remains under an air quality alert. Wildfire smoke has high concentrations of PM 2.5 particles, small enough to reach the deepest parts of the lung and even cross into the blood stream. As wildfire smoke increases, so does the PM 2.5 concentration and the Air Quality Index. An AQI of 500 is equivalent to smoking 25 cigarettes a day. Cal/ OSHA requires employers with outdoor workers to monitor air quality. The EPA offers a simple and useful site to help with monitoring local conditions, called AirNow.

Employers must offer respiratory protection, meaning N95 masks or greater, to outdoor employees for voluntary use when the AQI 2.5 is greater than 150. Employers must require employee mask use when the AQI is greater than 500. The current cloth face coverings required for COVID mitigation do NOT filter the PM 2.5 particulate matter and do not meet Cal/ OSHA standards for wildfire smoke protection.

Producers must also provide employees with training addressing wildfire smoke exposure. UC Davis’ Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (WCAHS) offers excellent fact sheets and posters in both English and Spanish and are an effective way to help comply with Cal/OSHA’s training requirements.

Smoke Exposure to Livestock

Pets and livestock can experience health effects similar to those of humans, but producers don’t have the luxury of evacuating the herd or the ability to provide masks for cows. The American Veterinary Medical association recommends limiting activities which substantively increase an animal’s breathing. Almost no specific guidance exists relative to AQI and livestock. Particularly when “unhealthy” wildfire smoke occurs during a heat event, however, producers may consider minimizing or postponing activities such as sorting, transporting, and vaccinating.

Emergency Electrical Power

The current fires raging throughout the state and forecasted fall winds may threaten a dairy’s electrical service. Producers needing specific information on expanding emergency power capacity, regulatory requirements, equipment rental, and dairy generator maintenance should visit CDQAP’s webpage, Dairies & Emergency Power.

These and other wildfire issues are addressed in CDQAP’s comprehensive Wildfire Resource Advisory. Also included is information related to responding to a fire directly threating a facility and the limited application of evacuation.