Heavy smoke blanketing Del Norte County from local wildfires brought a greater number of respiratory patients into Sutter Coast Hospital.

Dr. Carroll Christie, who helps care for the hospital’s inpatients, said the increased number of patients included those with pre-existing conditions such as chronic pulmonary obstructive disease or asthma. The hospital has also seen an increase in the number of new respiratory issues such as pneumonia.

“We’ve seen about a 55 percent increase since the start of the fire as compared to other years,” Christie said, adding he hasn’t seen anyone with smoke inhalation issues coming in. “We have seen an increase compared to other years and that is a new variable.”

Increased particulate matter and smoke last week created enough problems on the Yurok reservation for the Tribal Council to declare a state of emergency. That decision on Aug. 31, activated the tribe’s emergency response team, according to tribal spokesman Matt Mais.

The Yurok Reservation is close to the Eclipse Complex and the Orleans Complex, which have scorched approximately 115,000 acres, according to Mais.

The Yurok Tribe opened a clean air shelter at the Libby Nix Community Center in Weitchpec three weeks ago, stocking it with cold water, comfortable seating and filtered air. The Yurok Transit Service also provided emergency rides for people needing to get to the clean air shelter.

The community of Weitchpec on the Yurok Reservation was forecast to be in the moderate range, North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District announced on Friday.

In Del Norte County, Smith River was forecast to be unhealthy for sensitive groups on Friday, according to the NCUAQMD. Smith River’s air quality was affected primarily by the Chetco Bar Fire in nearby Oregon.

Air quality in Crescent City, Klamath and Gasquet is forecast to be good with periods of moderate. The conditions could change over the weekend depending on the weather, according to the NCUAQMD.

During periods of poor air quality, people should remain inside, keeping windows, doors and fireplaces closed, Christie said. They should also try to use air conditioners to re-circulate the air inside the room. When driving, people should keep their windows rolled up and have the air conditioner on in the car, he said.

“People with pre-existing conditions should make sure they have their rescue inhalers with them at all times,” Christie said. “I would also make sure that you, for people who have access to the internet, make sure they look at air quality levels for the day.”

People with pre-existing conditions should also keep an emergency supply of their medication, including a backup rescue inhaler in a safe place in case they have to evacuate, Christie said. He also implored people not to try to “ride it out” if they’re feeling short of breath.

“The early signs of exacerbations, one of the biggest things, is that you’re starting to hear yourself wheeze a little bit more and you’re having difficulty taking in breath,” he said. “The main thing is you’re using your rescue inhaler more often.”

In Del Norte County, clean air centers have been established at the Family Resource Center of the Redwoods, 494 Pacific Ave., Crescent City; at the Tsunami Lanes Bowling Alley, 760 L St., Crescent City; and at the Xaa-wan’-k’wvt Village and Resort (formerly Ship Ashore), 12370 U.S. 101 North in Smith River.

For more information about air quality, visit www.ncuaqmd.org.