As Northern Nevadans near the end of the month of August and another month of the Covid-19 pandemic, they face another challenge—Fire Season. Fires in Northern California, as well as Northern Reno have brought large amounts of smoke into the area, causing closures as well as reduced visibility in many areas. How does this reduction in visibility affect motor vehicle and pedestrian accidents and what are precautions to take when driving in low visibility?
Fires Brings Smoke to Northern Nevada
A group of fires west of Sacramento continues to rage, destroying 124,000 acres of land and almost thirty thousand structures in the surrounding areas.  In the meantime, the Truckee Meadows Fire Department is dealing with the Loyalton Fire burning in Northern Reno, which is threatening residents in Verdi and Cold Springs. Lightning is the suspected cause of both these fires.  The combination of these two fires, as well as the wind has created a haze of smoke that covers Northern Nevada.
In response to the smoke in the area, all Washoe County School District schools were closed on Monday August 17, which was also the first day of school. School was also canceled on Thursday August 21.  This decision came amidst Washoe County’s hybrid and distance learning model they have adopted in response to the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic.
As Northern Nevadans deal with both a pandemic and the smoke and heat outside, it is important to remember one’s health. It is important to remember that those with lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, or pregnant, are at risk if they inhale excess smoke. Those with these underlying health conditions are also more likely to contract Covid-19 or have complications due to it. So how can you protect yourself from smoke? Here are some simple things the Environmental Protection Agency recommends people to follow:
- Pay attention to local air quality reports:As smoke gets worse, the concentration of particles in the air increases – and so should the steps you take to protect yourself.
- Use Common Sense: Even if you don’t have a monitor in your area, if it looks or smells smoky outside, it’s probably not a good time to mow the lawn or go for a run. It’s probably not a good time for children to be outdoors, or active outdoors for prolonged periods of time.
- Stay Indoors: take steps to keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep your windows and doors closed – unless it’s extremely hot outside. Run your air conditioner, if you have one. Keep the filter clean to prevent bringing additional smoke inside. If you don’t have an air conditioner, staying inside with the windows closed may be dangerous in extremely hot weather. In these cases, seek alternative shelter, such as with relatives or a cleaner air shelter.
- If you have asthma or another lung disease: make sure you follow your healthcare provider’s directions about taking your medicines and following your asthma action plan. Have at least a five-day supply of medication on hand. Call your healthcare provider if your symptoms worsen.
Northern Nevada officials also warned that the smoke can also increase the heat outside and cause heat stroke or other medical problems.  Nevadans are encouraged to stay hydrated when outside, wearing sunscreen and hats, and staying in the shade. However, it is recommended to stay inside whenever possible.
Smoke, Visibility, and Driving
As smoke and haze covers the Reno/Sparks area, drivers face reduced visibility while driving on the road. It is important for Northern Nevadans to be more alert of the road conditions when driving through low visibility area. This can reduce the chance of getting in a motor vehicle or pedestrian accident.
When driving through a low visibility area, it is important to slow down and check if there are other vehicles, pedestrians, or bikers around you. Speed is the leading cause of smoke-related motor vehicle crashes.  It is also important that drivers turn their lights on low beam rather than high beam. High beam lights will reflect off the smoke, making it more difficult to see. Low beams ensure that other drivers, and pedestrians can see you. If you are having trouble seeing in the smoke, pull over on the right edge of the road, or on painted road markers until you can see again, or receive proper assistance.
It is also important to protect your lungs while on the road. When driving in the Northern Nevada area, it is recommended to roll up the windows and recirculate the air in the car. Once the smoky conditions cease in this area, Nevadans should consider replacing their vehicle’s air cabin filter. If you have to walk or bike near a roadway during smoky conditions, it is recommended that you wear a mask to decrease exposure to smoke. It is also recommended that pedestrians and bikers wear brighter clothes to be more visible through the haze. 
As Northern Nevadans return to school amidst a global pandemic and wildfires in the region, it is important to take proper safety precautions. As smoke fills the air of Reno and Sparks residents, it is important that they take proper precautions at home, school, and on the road.