By Aaron Glantz and Susie Neilson.
Three days after the Camp Fire erupted, incinerating the Northern California town of Paradise and killing 85 people, Katrina Sawa found herself struggling to breathe.
But Sawa wasn’t anywhere near Paradise. She lives almost 100 miles away in Roseville, a suburb northeast of Sacramento. Sawa puffed on her emergency asthma inhaler over and over again.
“Usually, I use it once a month,” said Sawa, a 48-year-old businesses coach who has had asthma since she was 13. “After using it four times in one day, I knew it was time to go to urgent care.” There, doctors had her inhale a powerful steroid medication to soothe her inflamed airways.
For two weeks after the fire ignited, the air in Northern California, stretching as far as 200 miles from the flames, was so full of smoke that it was deemed unhealthy to breathe, especially for people with heart and respiratory ailments.
But the health problems Sawa and others experienced while the blaze raged are just the beginning of effects that could plague people from Sacramento to the San Francisco Bay Area long after the smoke clears.