Santa Monicans awoke to a smoky, hazy morning today thanks to several wildfires raging across the region.
Authorities estimate a wind-driven Southern California wildfire has grown to more than 70 square miles (181 sq. kilometers).
Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen says the fire grew exponentially early Tuesday after breaking out Monday evening about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
Lorenzen says more than 150 structures have burned. The Thomas fire is burning west toward the city of Ventura.
Another fire burning on the northern edge of Los Angeles (Sylmar) is estimated at nearly 4 square miles (10 sq. kilometers).
A third Southern California wildfire broke out on the northern edge of Los Angeles, sweeping across 200 acres and closing the northbound lanes of Interstate 5 Tuesday morning.
The Santa Monica Fire Department sent two engines to the Thomas fire at about 11 p.m. Monday night as part of their Mutual Aid Strike Team with Culver City and Beverly Hills. Those crews have been working through the night in battling multiple structure fires around the Santa Paula/Ventura area.
On Monday at about 8:30 a.m., LAFD requested additional resources to the Creek Fire burning in the Sylmar area. SMFD sent 1 Engine and 1 Battalion Chief to assist. They are currently assisting LAFD with multiple structure fires in that area.
According to SMFD Captain Patrick Nulty, a total of 13 local firefighters are deployed to the regional efforts. The department has recalled off-duty personnel to staff Reserve Engines here in Santa Monica and coverage is back to normal levels.
Santa Ana wind events always pose a fire threat in Southern California. Wildland areas that interface with urban areas are particularly vulnerable, like the fires we see occurring now, but there also exists a threat to areas like Santa Monica. High winds have dangerous effects on structural fires within communities, because they can grow and spread rapidly.
It was hard to tell smoke from fog Tuesday morning in Santa Monica and conditions looked more like a hazy sunset than a clear winter sunrise. Local officials issued a statement telling residents the smell of smoke was due to brush fires outside the city and asking residents to keep the 911 system for emergency use only.
Local schools were open but Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati sent an alert to parents outlining plans to keep kids as away from smoke as possible.
“School is in session, however, we will be running on an indoor schedule today, including for physical education, lunch and recess,” he said.
“We are awaiting direction from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health regarding athletic team practices this afternoon and for any additional advice.
There are no fires in the area at this time. The smoky conditions are from fires in the Ventura area.
If your student has health concerns, please contact your medical professional for advice at this time. If your student will not be in school due to these conditions, please contact your school office and report your student as absent today.”
The National Weather Service has issued an Extreme Fire Danger warning through Thursday. The agency said peak wind gusts would reach 50-70 miles per hour with isolated gusts up to 80 mph in nearby mountains. Relatively low humidity will make the fire danger worse with the potential for very rapid fire growth.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory for Los Angeles County’s 10 million residents. People are urged to stay inside and filter the air with their air conditioners.
The Los Angeles County Public Health Department advises residents and workers in smoky areas to take steps to mitigate the impacts of the poor air quality. Locals are advised to reduce outdoor activity, keep windows and doors closed, only use air conditioners that have recirculating options and with clean filters, utilize air conditioned public places if necessary such as libraries, do not smoke, do not use fireplaces and immediately seek medical aid for 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. Pets should also be brought inside.
Dr. Wally Ghurabi, medical director of the Nethercutt Emergency Center at UCLA Medical Center, said the air quality was severe and would cause more trouble the longer it persisted.
“I’ve been practicing emergency medicine in Santa Monica for 37 years. I’ve never seen air quality this bad or this unhealthful,” he said. “Everyone should stay indoors as much as possible.”
Patients began arriving at the ER Monday night and have continued to arrive throughout the day. Ghurabi said masks won’t keep out all of the particles but they will provide some relief.
“People with chronic pulmonary disease such as emphysema, COPD or asthma are the least able to tolerate this,” he said. “They should hunker down in their homes for the next few days. If they need medication, inhalers or masks, a friend or neighbor should be asked to help.”