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Satellite image showing smoke from California wildfires blanketing the state on Aug. 7, 2018. Photo: NASA

The massive wildfires burning in California are emitting so much smoke that parts of the state, as well as neighboring states, now have some of the most hazardous air quality readings of anywhere in the world.

Why it matters: Millions of people not threatened by the flames are still in harms' way of the fires' smoke plumes, particularly in the Central Valley of California. Smoke-related air quality issues are the result of wildfires combined with weather patterns that keep the smoke in place for long periods of time.

Details: The wildfires are belching smoke high into the air, but with anemic winds aloft much of it is getting trapped above the Golden State. The wildfires themselves are historic, and their smoke plumes have been so large and widespread that they've been visible from the International Space Station.

  • The Mendocino Fire Complex, for example, is the state's largest wildfire on record, at more than 290,000 acres burned and growing. The fire is unlikely to be contained — let alone extinguished — before September, according to Cal Fire.
A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

The impact: As they churn through wood, grass and other materials, California's wildfires are wafting both gases and fine particles into the air. When inhaled, the microscopic particles, known as particulates, can be absorbed into the bloodstream and lungs, causing or aggravating health problems such as asthma and heart disease.

  • Smoke can also serve as a precursor to ground-level ozone, which is a human health hazard as well.
  • In some areas, air quality is so hazardous that authorities are advising people to stay indoors as much as possible.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.