Aug 18, 2019

Library construction goes on, workers breathe smoky air

The first thing that came to mind when Ahmed Mshaka smelled the smoke last week was that someone’s house was burning.

Fortunately it wasn’t a home, but the reality wasn’t much better.

What Mshaka smelled was the smoky air, which still lingers in the valley from the fires in Plumas County near Sacramento.

The resulting haze that covered the Central Valley affected everything from elementary school sports to the construction work going on at the Henry Madden Library.

Mshaka, a project engineer for Swinerton Builders who is currently overseeing the Henry Madden Library addition, said that he heard no complaints from the library construction workers but he could tell the air was noticeably different.

“I was up until midnight and [the smoke] was coming through the windows,” Mshaka said. “I was thinking maybe it was a house or some farmer was around the house burning something.”

The harsh air also forced parents to keep their kids at home. Mshaka’s step-son had football and soccer games canceled and had heard that other workers had their kids’ sports and elementary school recess canceled. He was also surprised to learn that the smoke was from fires that were so far north of Fresno and yet still reached the valley.

“The immediate feeling that I had was that I was licking an ashtray.” said Mshaka, who went to Fresno State as an undergraduate.

Construction has always been a dusty business and Mshaka said that as a regular habit, many of the construction workers use respirators. It doesn’t mean that the workers don’t mind the smoky air, but they are more accustomed to unhealthy conditions.

He also said he’d rather work in the heat because the body has mechanisms to help, like with sweating.

“You can stand in a shady place and drink water but with the smoke it goes in your eyes, in your lungs, whereas the heat doesn’t necessarily affect your breathing,” said Mshaka.

The Central Valley has been notorious for having poor air quality and the smoke certainly does not help.

Fellow Swinerton Builders project manager Rick Bishoff had a similar experience when he woke up on Thursday.

“To my wife and me it smelled like someone was burning wood in our yard,” said Bishoff, continuing that he could definitely feel that the air was affecting him.

Bishoff, like Mshaka, said he would prefer to work in hot temperatures rather than the smoke because it seems healthier.

Also, Bishoff had not heard of any other construction work that was delayed or affected by the smoke, including the sites nearer to the fires up north.

However, the bad conditions prompted some of the Henry Madden Library construction workers to be sent home late last week , according to Bishoff.

“I wouldn’t say [the workers] were used to the smoke, but it was pretty severe last week,” Bishoff said.

The smoke has not disappeared over the Central Valley, but air quality is predicted to be healthier later in the week. Fortunately, no progress on the library was lost because of the smoke.

Breathing was more difficult, but not impossible.

Bishoff and Mshaka were both pleased that no workers visibly complained and, of course, that there was no houses burning down in their neighborhoods.

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