The winds that drove smoke and ash from the Colby Fire in Glendora all the way to LA County’s South Bay were a stark reminder of the drought conditions that California faces during what should be Southern California’s rainy season. Hetty Chang reports from Rancho Palos Verdes for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m.on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014.
With the threatening blaze of a 1,863-acre brush fire raging northeast of Los Angeles, the region’s air pollution control agency has issued smoke advisories for several communities.
The Colby Fire, which broke out early Thursday and placed several neighborhoods in danger, has prompted the South Coast Air Quality Management District to issue two smoke advisories for areas throughout the South Coast Air Basin, where smoke impacts occur.
Unhealthy air quality is expected in the following areas:
Moderate air quality is expected in neighboring zones southwest and southeast of the fire. Air quality was labeled “good” in communities west of Arcadia -- into areas such as Pasadena and Altadena.
The biggest concern, as far as air quality and effects on residences' health, is microscopic particulate matter, according to AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood said. Health impacts from exposure to the particulates can be serious, and Atwood noted that the periods during and after wildfires typically record spikes in emergency room visits and hospital admissions for cardio-pulmonary-related problems.
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“All individuals are urged to exercise caution and avoid unnecessary outdoor activities in any area directly impacted by smoke,” Friday’s advisory said. “This includes areas where residents can see or smell smoke.”
Residents with heart disease or lung disease -- including asthma and bronchitis -- are particularly susceptible to elevated levels of fine particulates, but Atwood added that healthy people could also be affected when exercising outdoors.
Residents are advised to keep their windows and doors closed or seek alternate shelter.
For those not able to avoid smoky areas, special N95 or P100 respirator masks, if worn properly, might help protect against smoke particles. Paper or surgical masks, however, will not work.
Smoke and air quality conditions have improved over night, according to Friday's advisory; however, brush burning in the Angeles National Forest above Glendora and into nearby communities could still produce large amounts of smoke.
Accumulated offshore smoke emitted Thursday could come back onshore Friday and impact areas throughout the four-county air basin, especially near coastal areas such as Long Beach, about 40 miles southwest of the burn zone, the advisory noted.
Depending on fire and weather conditions, unhealthy air quality might reach portions of the San Gabriel Valley, the Pomona/Walnut Valley and the San Gabriel Mountains near the fire.
During a Friday morning news conference, fire officials said the burned area held steady overnight at about 1,700 acres, and containment figures remained the same at 30 percent.
Those figures -- and the number of structures damaged -- will likely change as assessment teams complete their work. At least five homes were destroyed and 17 structured were damaged Thursday, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Three men were arrested Friday afternoon in connection with the Colby Fire. They are accused of starting an illegal campfire amid the dry brush of Angeles National Forest. The fire likely spread out-of-control when the men used paper to fuel the flames, according to investigators.
The fire raced downhill and into residential areas, sending embers into palm trees as spot fires popped up in the neighborhood. Smoke from the fire could be seen throughout Southern California.
A Red Flag warning, indicating a high risk of wildfire because of high winds, low humidity and dry vegetation, remains in effect for the fifth-straight day.
The warnings come after the driest year on record in California and what could be the driest January in the state. The all-time low rainfall record in January occurred in 1984, when just 0.3 inches of rain fell across California.