Tough to breathe, but oh, the sunset

Becky Flynn had a bird’s-eye view as smoke from dozens of California wildfires blanketed the Las Vegas Valley on Friday.

Flynn, of Springfield, Ill., flew into Las Vegas around 11 a.m.

“As we descended, it got more and more hazy,” she said while watching the sunset from Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

The smoke produced a grainy sunset.

“It makes for a beautiful sunset,” said Gerald Prendergast of Brooksville, Fla., who also was at Red Rock.

Authorities expected the smoke to remain in the valley through Sunday.

“I thought something was burning here at the park,” said Las Vegas resident Kevin Lear, who hiked at Red Rock for two hours Friday. “It just makes you wonder about the air we’re breathing.”

Clark County health officials warned the public to take precautions while outside, especially people with respiratory and heart problems, the elderly and children.

“I had a hard time breathing on the loop, which is kind of unusual for me,” Joseph Fronteras said after biking the scenic route at Red Rock. He watched the smoke get thicker as he drove in from Visalia, Calif., on Friday afternoon.

“I’m not sure what made it harder to breathe,” he said. “It could have been the smoke, the drive or the caffeine.”

The smoky air is made up of noxious gases and fine particles. Health officials said the particles are easily inhaled and can irritate eyes and worsen the conditions of those who suffer from heart and lung disease, including bronchitis and asthma.

The poor air quality can cause healthy people to experience watery eyes, coughing and wheezing, the officials said.

People with emphysema or asthma can see symptoms that are more aggressive than usual.

Young children are more susceptible to pollutants because they breathe at a faster rate than adults and their lungs are developing.

“There’s definitely a chance that people will be affected by smoke-filled air,” said Dr. Craig Nakamura, a child lung specialist who runs University Medical Center’s Cystic Fibrosis Clinic.

“Anytime the wind picks up and there have been fires in states neighboring us, we see groups of people, especially asthmatics. Right now, though, the dust and smoke levels are moderate.”

As a precaution, Nakamura urges people with asthma and other upper respiratory illnesses to monitor the county’s air quality at its Web site, www.accessclarkcounty.com/daqem.

If the air quality drops below moderate, he said, people, including those who are healthy, should consider staying indoors.

“If it is warm, run your air conditioners. Make sure the filters are clean,” Nakamura said. “Keep the kids indoors because it wouldn’t be a good time for them to play outdoors.”

According to Clark County’s air quality report and forecast for this weekend, the area’s smoke and dust levels aren’t expected to exceed moderate levels through Sunday.

All other pollutants should remain in the good range.

Review-Journal writer Francis McCabe contributed to this report.

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