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Farmworkers continue to work through smoke and unhealthy air in the Central Valley

Soreath Hok
Wildfire smoke fills the air near Woodward Park in Fresno, CA.



State guidelines require employers to provide outdoor workers with N95 masks for voluntary use when the air quality index is above 151. On Monday, as AQI was forecast to reach 169 in Fresno County, Carmen Cuautenco continued picking almonds. 

She typically picks grapes during the harvest season but with wildfire smoke stunting their growth, she says she’s been forced to pivot to almonds. She wore her own mask to protect against COVID-19 and wildfire smoke, but she says her employer never offered her an N95 mask.

Still, she says she doesn’t have the option to stay home and not work. 

“I can’t stay without work because the bills don’t wait, the rent doesn’t wait,” she says in Spanish.  

Oscar Garcia also works in the fields near Raisin City. He returned to work last week after two weeks of quarantining due to contracting COVID-19. He says Monday was just another day at work. He says his employer didn’t offer any protections or recommendations regarding the smoke and unhealthy air. 

“No, they don’t say anything,” he says in Spanish. “They just say to wear a mask if you’re spraying pesticides.” 

He says fire season has been tough the last two years but he doesn’t have the luxury of taking time off.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District expects the poor air quality to continue to impact the region through Thursday.


Madi Bolanos covered immigration and underserved communities for KVPR from 2020-2022. Before joining the station, she interned for POLITCO in Washington D.C. where she reported on US trade and agriculture as well as indigenous women’s issues during the Canadian election. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in anthropology from San Francisco State University. Madi spent a semester studying at the Danish Media and Journalism School where she covered EU policies in Brussels and alleged police brutality at the Croatian-Serbian border.