Debbie Dobrosky noticed a peculiar hue in the sky on August 6 — "a very ugly yellow casting" — as she peeked outside. A large cloud of smoke had begun to cover the sun.
By the next day, the smoke was so heavy that "even inside my apartment I've had to use my inhaler twice this morning, which is not a normal thing," says Dobrosky, a Riverside County, Calif., resident who lives about 30 miles from a fast-growing fire in the Cleveland National Forest.
"Today I'm stuck inside, there's no going out," says Dobrosky, 67, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an inflammatory lung condition.
At least 17 large fires are burning across California, and dozens more throughout other Western states, destroying hundreds of thousands of acres, sending toxic pollutants into the air and contaminating water supplies. The air quality in certain areas — particularly near California's massive Mendocino Complex Fire in the northern part of the state — is among the worst officials have ever seen.
With temperatures at times reaching into the triple digits, unpredictable winds and desiccated brush that serves as kindling, there's no end in sight to this year's fire season.
"We are in a situation now where the wildfire season doesn't really have its normal beginning or end," says Lori Kobza, spokeswoman for the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.