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Smoke in the Sierra

Dear Bishop Guest,

During wildfire season, which now occurs throughout the year, we get many inquiries about  Bishop and the adjoining area’s wildfire status, air quality, and smoke conditions.

To help you see, learn and understand existing conditions so you make the best determination about your comfort with any given situation, the Bishop Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau has created the FAQS (aka Fire, Air Quality, Smoke) Tutorial to quickly and briefly provide you important information to make good travel decisions.


Since we need wildfires to have smoke which leads to poor air quality, let’s first start with where fires are occurring.  The link below identifies wildfires in the United States.  Just zoom into Bishop, California to get a good idea of what fires are occurring in the immediate area, their size, suppression status, and more.

Smoke Projections:

The link below is a smoke dispersal website that project where fire scientists think wildfire smoke will drift.  It is based on human projections and can be incorrect if conditions change.  It covers the entire country, but currently defaults to wildfires and smoke in California and Nevada.

You will see that the projections can be in different increments of time.  The link is set for smoke projections over a three day window.  You want to make sure that the dates of the run are accurate.  It is easy to correct if they are not current.  Just go to the “Domain” tab in the sidebar menu on the left of the window, click on it.   Then click the “Show Latest Runs” tab.  The smoke projection graphic will update  to the current date in the upper right hand window of the screen.  Check it to make sure it is reading its most current date.  If you are travelling across different states, you can monitor smoke conditions elsewhere.

Air Quality — What You See Is What You Get.

The next several links are a series of webcams to show in real time what the area’s visual quality looks like.

The first are webcams of the Sierra Nevada.  This shows all webcams in the Sierra and is included because we “provide you more than you expect”.

The next webcam links show localized Eastern Sierra features including Bishop, Mt Whitney, Owens Lake, Mammoth Mountain Summit, and more:







The next links are air quality and its impact on health.

The last air quality link entitled “Air Now – Fire & Smoke” is quite good.  On this link, consider looking at where you are located to get a read of your air quality health number;  then get Bishop’s air quality health number. Quickly compare them to see which is better.  This is especially useful if there is widespread smoke and your location has poorer air quality than Bishop.




Wildfire smoke and mask use:

We are all more familiar with the types of masks available than we were a year ago.  You may be wondering if the mask that you wear to decrease the spread of covid also helps with the wildfire smoke. Here is the breakdown brought to us by Dr. Helvie at Team Inyo:

Cloth masks: fabric is not designed to filter air.  Cloth masks help decrease the spread of respiratory infections such as covid because the droplets produced when you cough or sneeze are big enough to be blocked by the fabric.  When you are breathing with a cloth mask on, most of the air goes around the sides of the mask.  The particles in wildfire smoke are smaller than those produced by a cough or sneeze and are not blocked by most fabric.  Depending on the type of fabric and how tightly the mask fits typically cloth masks or bandannas only block about 10 percent of the particles from wildfire smoke.

N95 masks:  If a mask meets the required specifications to be an N95 mask (which is not true of all masks that can be purchased with this label) it is designed to filter that air that you breath.  To work best N95 masks need to be professionally fitted and tested for leaks.  Even when not fit tested an N95 mask filters about three quarters of wildfire smoke from the air that you breath.

Vented masks are not recommended to decrease the spread of covid since they do not block droplets that you breathe out. They may help to decrease the wildfire smoke particles that you breathe in depending on the fabric and fit of the mask.

A little historical perspective on Wildfire Management from the Cal Fire Museum