Calif. fire prompts unhealthy air warnings in Nev.

A smoke plume from the Rim Fire rises nera Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013.
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Updated 6:04 p.m.

GROVELAND, Calif. The giant wildfire burning at the edge of Yosemite National Park has not only destroyed buildings and threatened water supplies, electricity and sequoias; it has also unleashed a smoky haze that has worsened air quality more than 100 miles away in Nevada.

The plume from the Rim Fire in California triggered emergency warnings in the Reno and Carson City area. Schoolchildren were kept inside for the second time in a week, people went to hospitals complaining of eye and throat irritation, and officials urged people to avoid all physical activity outdoors.

"It's five hours away," said 22-year-old bartender Renee Dishman in disbelief after learning that the source of the haze was more than 150 miles away. "I can't run. I can't breathe. It makes me sneeze."

The Rim Fire, so far, has burned through 292 square miles, destroyed 111 structures and threatened water supplies, hydroelectric power and giant sequoias.

Most of the structures that were destroyed are tent cabins and other outbuildings, but the figure includes 11 homes, said California fire spokesman Daniel Berlant.

Firefighters added a California National Guard Predator drone to their arsenal Wednesday to give them real-time views of flames chewing through rugged forests in and around Yosemite National Park.

As of that morning, authorities said the blaze was 23 percent contained, with crews aided by higher humidity continuing to make progress against it overnight.

"Our crews are getting the upper hand on this fire," Berlant said.

Crews plan to focus on structure defense along the southeast edge of the fire on Wednesday and continue constructing a contingency line ahead of communities to the north, including Tuolumne City.

In Nevada, evidence of the Rim Fire is in the smoke-filled sky. The air quality index briefly surpassed the rare "hazardous" level east of Lake Tahoe before improving slightly. It hovered around the next-most serious stage of "very unhealthy" for all populations in the Reno-Sparks area 30 miles north.

Dennis Fry, a Reno auto body specialist for nearly 30 years, remembered smoke this thick when he worked on a logging crew and helped fight fires in Oregon during the 1970s.

"But never in Reno, not this bad," he said. "You could actually see the smoke inside my body shop."

A smoky haze from a huge California wildfire burning more than 150 miles away hangs over Virginia Street in Reno, Nev., Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. Most of the Sierra's eastern front from south of Carson City to north of Lake Tahoe has been under an air quality alert for nearly a week.
AP Photo/Scott Sonner

Everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors when the air quality index reaches "hazardous," considered "emergency conditions," the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection said on its website. "People with heart or lung disease, older adults and children should remain indoors and keep activity levels low."

Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno has experienced a "slight increase" in emergency room visits as a result of the smoke, said Jennifer Allen, the hospital's clinical nursing supervisor.

"Patients are experiencing shortness of breath, eye and throat irritation, cough and headache due to the heavy smoke and poor air quality," she said, adding that people with asthma and other respiratory ailments were most affected.