Smoke, ash from wildfires descend on Long Beach; raises air quality hazards

Long Beach residents awoke to gray skies and a fiery red sun Thursday morning as smoke and ash from wildfires raging across Southern California floated above the city causing unsafe air quality.

Two major fires, the Bobcat Fire burning north of Azusa in the Angeles National Forest and the El Dorado Fire burning in the San Bernardino Mountains near Yucaipa, are causing unhealthy levels of air quality, Long Beach health officials said.

During a press conference Thursday, Long Beach Health Officer Anissa Davis urged residents to avoid staying outdoors and to keep windows and doors closed.

“Wildfires are producing heavy smoke and ash,” she said. “Take caution and avoid activities in areas where you can see and smell smoke.”

The sun shines through smoke from nearby wildfires in Long Beach on Thursday, Sept. 10. 2020. Photo by Sebastian Echeverry.

People on social media said the air quality was irritating their eyes and throats and posted about finding ash on their patios.

According to air quality data from IQAir, Long Beach could experience hazardous air conditions on Saturday and unhealthy levels into next week.

City officials opened cooling centers with circulating air for families that did not have air conditioning at home and could not escape last week’s heat, however, due to relatively cooler temperatures, Davis said the city is not planning to open the cooling centers this week.

Dr. Elisa Nicholas, head of TCC Family Health in Long Beach, said the poor air quality could aggravate symptoms for individuals– especially those with respiratory illnesses.

Nicholas said that while they haven’t seen an increase in asthma cases, the smoke is causing more people to report allergies.

“The smoke is made of carbon dioxide, water vapor and small particulates– smaller than a hair,” she said. “That gets deep in your lungs and can cause problems.”

Long Beach health officials gave the following advise:

  • Avoid any vigorous outdoor or indoor exertion.
  • Remain indoors, especially for individuals with respiratory or heart disease, pregnant women, older adults and children.
  • Run your air conditioner if you have one.
  • Change the standard air-conditioner filter to a medium or high-efficiency filter.
  • If you have a wall-unit or window-unit air conditioner, set it to “re-circulate.”
  • Avoid the use of a swamp cooler or whole-house fan to prevent bringing additional smoke inside.
  • Avoid indoor or outdoor wood-burning appliances, including fireplaces, to avoid worsening the health effects of wildfire smoke.

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Sebastian Echeverry is the North Long Beach reporter through the Report for America program. Philanthropic organizations pledged to cover the local donor portion of his grant-funded position with the Long Beach Post. If you want to support Sebastian's work, you can donate to his Report for America position at lbpost.com/support.
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