Very unhealthy air quality becomes a daily occurrence
By Terry Miller
The Bobcat Fire burning in the Angeles National Forest continues to unleash its fury over a week since it first erupted, necessitating residents in parts of Arcadia, Sierra Madre, and within the area north of Angeles Crest North and between Clear Creek Station and Highway 39 to evacuate.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors declared a local emergency as record-setting fires brought ash, soot and unhealthy amounts of smoke into our immediate atmosphere.
As California battles another major health threat, COVID-19, in the wake of the massive fires the state is facing, “the smoke is now scarier than the pandemic,” claims Cynthia Gorney in a recent article for the National Geographic science team.
“I am grateful for the collaboration of our cities and communities, including Sierra Madre, Arcadia, Monrovia, Bradbury, Duarte and Azusa, who have shown strong unity in support of our fire personnel to battle the ongoing fire,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said. “The Los Angeles County Fire Department is working in partnership with U.S. Forest Service Angeles National Forest and American Red Cross to manage this emergency and provide essential support to residents.”
“As the Bobcat Fire spreads to more than 41,000 acres, with containment at three percent, I implore all residents in impacted areas to act quickly when receiving directives from our emergency personnel,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis said. “If you must evacuate your home, please follow through quickly. I thank the dedicated women and men of the Los Angeles County Fire Department for protecting our communities and families by working nonstop in attempting to contain this blaze.”
On Tuesday, as the fire grew, containment was reduced to 3%, where it remains as of Wednesday morning. The fire’s growth is primarily in the north and west, but firefighters are still doing their best to stop the fire’s creep to the south. While Arcadia remains some distance away from the fire, a backfiring operation is underway to divert the fire away from Monrovia. Another backfiring operation was used to protect the Mount Wilson Observatory.
Firefighters from Monrovia, Pasadena, Arcadia, Sierra Madre, Ventura, City of Santa Barbara, as well as Glendale and Verdugo fire departments have done an outstanding job keeping the fire away from foothill communities. Firefighters are now breathing a cautious collective sigh of relief that the anticipated powerful Santa Ana winds will not appear.
The fire, which has thus far scorched 44,393 acres, as of Wednesday morning, is barely contained and continues to grow and burn downhill into foothill communities in the San Gabriel Valley. It has been a tough week for firefighters and residents alike with heat, increasingly poor visibility and dangerous smoke and ash lingering in the San Gabriel Valley.
According to Sierra Madre’s city manager Monday, “overnight the fire jumped the road 1/8-mile north of the Water Tank turnout above the dam and burned approximately 300 acres. … On the east-end (Wilderness Park/Clamshell Dam area), the fire looks good and crews finished [Sunday’s] burnout operation late [Sunday] night.” In Sierra Madre, police said a total of 32 homes were affected by the evacuation order.
In Monrovia, crews have been operating on the ridge above Spanish Canyon to ensure that the fire remains contained in the canyon and there are no spot fires. Crews have also been working in Monrovia Canyon Park.
The mandatory evacuation order for all residents north of Elkins Avenue and east of Santa Anita Avenue in the City of Arcadia was lifted Wednesday at 4 p.m. According to city officials in Arcadia, fire crews worked overnight Wednesday to protect the foothill neighborhoods of Arcadia. The Bobcat Fire made its way into the Chantry Flat area above Arcadia and approached Wilderness Park. Although the fire burned the hillside above the park, the park was not damaged. No structures in Arcadia have been impacted.
Evacuation warnings remain in effect for the foothill communities of Monrovia, Bradbury, Sierra Madre, Altadena, Duarte and Pasadena.
According to Wednesday morning’s incident report, fire officials “anticipate increased fire activity over the next couple of days” compared to Tuesday.
On Sunday night, a handful of Monrovia firefighters were given a standing ovation when picking up some takeout food on Myrtle. The impromptu emotional outpouring of a thankful community was poignant.
The death toll from the fires in California, Oregon and Washington stood at 33 Wednesday and is expected to rise. Most of the fatalities were in California and Oregon. At least 25 people have died in California since wildfires started.
In Oregon more than 400,000 people have been evacuated and about 500,000 are in different levels of evacuation zones, Gov. Kate Brown said last week.
According to Cal Fire Wednesday, over 17,000 firefighters are battling 25 major wildfires and two extended attack wildfires in California. “Since the beginning of the year, there have been nearly 7.900 wildfires that have burned over 3.3 million acres in California. Since August 15, when California’s fire activity elevated, there have been 25 fatalities and over 4,200 structures destroyed,” the agency reports.
The smoke from fires on the West Coast has reached the East Coast as well as Europe. “The smoke itself is a mixture of gases and particles like volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, soot, and ash. Right away, they can cause watery eyes and scratchy throats. But the biggest threats from smoke come from some of the tiniest particles, particularly those with a diameter smaller than 2.5 microns, known as PM2.5. These particles can penetrate deep into the airways, exacerbating heart and lung problems,” according to a recent Vox news report.
“They (PM2.5) environmental health scientist Sarah Henderson and an inflammatory response,” environmental health scientist Sarah Henderson, who works with the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, told National Geographic.
In Monrovia, the city issued a second supplement to the existing local emergency proclamation to include smoke as a dangerous threat within the city. The city attempted to purchase air purifiers to loan to vulnerable residents but were unable to acquire them as they remain out of stock. City officials are now encouraging those who have air conditioning to turn them on and keep windows closed, and for vulnerable populations to wear masks indoors. Due to the air quality, the city is even limiting staff at Monrovia City Hall.