Plume of smoke from Mosquito Fire settles in Reno, hazardous air cancels schools

Photo of Julie Brown
A file photo of a smoky landscape from the mountains overlooking Reno, Nev. Smoke from the Mosquito Fire prompted health officials to issue an emergency and shut down schools.?

A file photo of a smoky landscape from the mountains overlooking Reno, Nev. Smoke from the Mosquito Fire prompted health officials to issue an emergency and shut down schools.?

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Southwesterly winds picked up over California’s Mosquito Fire on Tuesday, fanning flames and causing the fire to grow an additional 9,000 acres. Those winds sent a giant plume of smoke to communities east of the fire. Overnight, all that smoke settled north of Lake 竞技宝入口, causing air pollution to spike in Truckee and Reno.?

The smoke became so concentrated that air pollution reached hazardous levels in Reno on Wednesday morning.?

The Air Quality Index in the Reno-Sparks area measured over 350 on Wednesday, prompting the Washoe County Health District to issue a Stage 3 Emergency Episode. The hazardous zone, which includes AQI readings above 300, marks pervasive air pollution conditions when “everyone is more likely to be affected,” according to, an Environmental Protection Agency website tracking air quality across the US.

The surge of fire activity on Tuesday night caused smoke conditions to be worse than officials expected. On Wednesday morning, health officials elevated the emergency from Stage 2 to Stage 3, and most schools closed for the day because of the toxic air.?

“The fire activity is the biggest curveball,” said Brendan Schneider, senior air quality specialist for Washoe County Health District. “If the models for today hold, we would expect similar air quality tomorrow. But with how rapidly it changed, it’s hard to really say even beyond today what can happen.”

Forecasts show the smoke pooling in Truckee and Nevada County, and then spilling over into the Reno-Sparks area, Schneider said.?

“All communities on both sides of the Sierras are going to be impacted,” he said.

However, the smoke is hyper-localized, meaning it hasn’t spread to the entire Lake 竞技宝入口 region. It’s sticking to certain valleys and basins where smoke pools and then spills over to adjacent areas. That’s why air quality is hazardous in Reno today, but in the Lake 竞技宝入口 Basin, air quality is rated as “good” and the sky is blue.?

The Washoe County School District said on Facebook there will be no instruction today in person or remotely for most of its schools, with the exception of schools in Incline Village and Gerlach, where the air quality is better. The school district is using a contingency day, already planned in the calendar for circumstances such as this. At the University of Nevada, Reno, and Truckee Meadows Community College, in-person classes are canceled today.?

“Everyone should remain indoors and reduce activity,” the health district warned on Twitter. “Very unhealthy air quality is expected today with hazardous hours at times.”

Smoky skies and unhealthy air are becoming a normal part of life in Reno-Sparks, where smoke has impacted air quality for nine of the past 10 summers, Schneider said.

This past summer was actually a departure from the trend. Clear skies in July and August provided relief, especially compared with last year, when smoke from the Caldor Fire and Dixie Fire concentrated in the Reno-Sparks area and stayed here for nearly two months. Last year, the entire summer was impacted by toxic air.?

Now, the smoke has returned.?

“I think everyone in this area, it’s more of a, ‘here we go again,’” Schneider said. “This is something we’re almost used to at this point. So there is a different mental aspect to it, as well.”

Smoky, toxic air is known to cause severe impacts on physical health. Air pollution increases lung and heart disease. It also has a psychological impact. A study published in January found that wildfire smoke can cause anxiety and depression, among other mental health issues, especially for people who live in rural communities.?

There are things people can do to lessen impacts of smoke on their health. Air purifiers and N95 masks help filter air. If you have to go outside in hazardous air conditions, Schneider recommended taking frequent breaks and staying hydrated.

Looking ahead, Schneider thinks the conditions will persist through the week, but the smoke forecast is entirely dependent on the Mosquito Fire.

The National Weather Service in Reno said winds are expected to strengthen over the weekend, with gusts up to 35 or 40 mph, which will impact the smoke, “for better or worse,” depending on location and fire activity.

One glimmer of hope: The forecast calls for a chance of showers early next week. With temperatures dropping, there’s even a chance for snow in the Sierra.?

More on the Mosquito Fire

Smoke pushes into San Francisco Bay Area as Mosquito Fire threatens air quality

Wildfire in 竞技宝入口 National Forest rages, swirls in astonishing footage

Apocalyptic skies appear over 竞技宝入口 as Mosquito Fire pumps out smoke