As the two fires that make up the San Gabriel Complex in the Angeles National Forest continue to burn, health officials are warning that the surrounding air quality is now unhealthy for everyone — not just people with respiratory problems. In Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, health officials say smoke and ash from the Sherpa Fire has also worsened air quality, but hasn’t yet reached the levels of concern for those in L.A.
South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Sam Atwood told KPCC that the warning level on the agency’s air quality index has reached “red.”
“When that happens, especially when residents can see or smell smoke, they should take precautions,” Atwood said.
Smoke from wildfires can cause an assortment of adverse health effects, said Dr. Frank Gilliland, professor of preventive medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and director of the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center.
“They vary from simple irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract — sore throats that kind of — to pretty serious effects, especially among sensitive groups,” he said.
With wildfires, Gilliland said, it’s the particulate air pollution that takes its toll on the health of people and animals. Small particulates, the size of human hair or smaller, are especially worrisome “because particles that small get deposited in the deep respiratory tract.”
County health officials warned residents of the San Gabriel Valley and surrounding areas where there is visible smoke, or the smell of smoke, to avoid unnecessary outdoor exposure and to limit physical exertion (including exercise) both inside and outside.
“We are also advising schools that are in session in smoke- impacted areas to suspend outside physical activities in these areas, including physical education and after-school sports, until conditions improve,” L.A. County Interim Health Officer Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser said in a release.
“Non-school related sports organizations for children and adults are advised to cancel outdoor practices and competitions in areas where there is visible smoke, soot, or ash, or where there is an odor of smoke. This also applies to other recreational outdoor activity, such as hikes or picnics, in these areas.” he said.
The warning goes double for sensitive individuals, health officials said. People affected by heart disease, asthma or other respiratory disease — or those particularly sensitive to poor air quality — should stay indoors as much as possible, even when smoke, soot or ash can’t be seen and there is no odor of smoke.
The advisory notes that it’s OK to participate in indoor sports or other strenuous activities in areas with visible smoke, soot or ash, as long as the air conditioning system doesn’t draw air from outside and windows and doors are closed to protect the air.
And for those who are driving through smokey areas, USC’s Gilliland suggests closing windows, turning on the air conditioning and putting the ventilation system into ‘re-circulation’ mode. The goal is to avoid sucking the smoke into the car’s passenger cabin. “For most recent model cars, it makes a big difference in the amount of particulate matter inside,” Gilliland said, adding that the re-circulation mode also helps keep out every day traffic pollutants. “So it’s a good idea to use the recirculation as much as you can.”
Other recommendations from L.A. County Public Health:
- If you see or smell smoke, or see a lot of particles and ash in the air, avoid unnecessary outdoor activity to limit your exposure to harmful air. This is especially important for those with heart or lung disease (including asthma), the elderly and children.
- If outdoor air is bad, try to keep indoor air as clean as possible by keeping windows and doors closed. Air conditioners that re-circulate air within the home can help filter out harmful particles.
- Avoid using air conditioning units that only draw in air from the outside or that do not have a re- circulating option. Residents should check the filters on their air conditioners and replace them regularly. Indoor air filtration devices with HEPA filters can further reduce the level of particles that circulate indoors.
- If it is too hot during the day to keep the doors or windows closed and you do not have an air conditioning unit that re-circulates indoor air, consider going to an air conditioned public place, such as a library or shopping center, to stay cool and to protect yourself from harmful air.
- Do not use fireplaces (either wood burning or gas), candles, and vacuums. Use damp cloths to clean dusty indoor surfaces. Do not smoke.
- If you have symptoms of lung or heart disease that may be related to smoke exposure, including severe coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness or pain, palpitations, nausea or unusual fatigue or lightheadedness, contact your doctor immediately or go to an urgent care center.
- When smoke is heavy for a prolonged period of time, fine particles can build up indoors even though you may not be able to see them. Wearing a mask may prevent exposures to large particles. However, most masks do not prevent exposure to fine particles and toxic gases, which may be more dangerous to your health.
They also issued these recommendations for pets:
- Avoid leaving your pets outdoors, particularly at night. Pets should be brought into an indoor location, such as an enclosed garage or a house.
- If dogs or cats appear to be in respiratory distress, they should be taken to an animal hospital immediately. Symptoms of respiratory distress for dogs include panting and/or an inability to catch their breath. Symptoms for cats are less noticeable, but may include panting and/or an inability to catch their breath.
The AQMD updated its advisory for unhealthy air quality on Tuesday. The warning will be in effect until midnight Wednesday, as the San Gabriel Complex Fire sent smoke into the skies.
PROJECTED SMOKE PATH FROM THE SAN GABRIEL COMPLEX
The image below shows where smoke from the fire could travel, according to United States Forest Service projections. The agency’s model, known as the BlueSky Modeling Framework, incorporates information about fires, fuel loadings, consumption, emissions, plume height and smoke trajectory. The loop begins on Monday, June 20 at 5 PM, and ends at June 23, 2016 at 3 PM.
SANTA BARBARA AND VENTURA COUNTY AIR CONCERNS
The Ventura County Air Pollution Control District rated Tuesday’s air quality in the region “moderate,” noting that Tuesday through Sunday are no burn days, a measure normally taken to keep air quality from getting worse.
A cautionary smoke advisory was released on Friday for the Sherpa Fire after some haze was visible in Los Angeles County. It was lifted, but re-issued on Monday for the southern part of the county due to both smoke and falling ash. The advisory is set to remain in effect until conditions improve.
“Although winds have dispersed some of the smoke, keeping overall air quality better than expected, there can be still pockets of poor air quality. The Sherpa Fire is not yet fully contained and smoke may continue to impact local air quality,” a release from the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District stated.
Read the full list of recommendations for dealing with poor air quality included in the Santa Barbara County district’s release:
- Residents are urged to avoid using leaf blowers or doing any activities that will stir ash and particles up into the air.
- If you see or smell smoke in the air, be cautious and use common sense to protect your and your family’s health. Everyone, especially people with heart or lung disease (including asthma), older adults, and children, should limit time spent outdoors and avoid outdoor exercise when high concentrations of smoke and particles are in the air.
- If you have symptoms that may be related to exposure to smoke and soot, contact your health care provider. Symptoms include repeated coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness or pain, palpitations, and nausea or unusual fatigue or lightheadedness.
- During hot weather, use your best judgment when it comes to keeping your home cool when there is smoke in your area. Keep windows and doors closed unless it is extremely hot. If you have an air conditioner, run it with the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean. If you have a whole house fan, turn it off unless it is extremely hot. If smoke is not present where you live, take the opportunity to air out your home.