Health officials said Friday that the Saddleridge Fire was causing unhealthy air quality in areas directly impacted by smoke, including portions of northwest Los Angeles County, the east and west San Fernando Valley, Santa Clarita Valley, San Gabriel Mountains and West San Gabriel Valley.
“It is difficult to tell where smoke, ash or soot from a fire will go, or how winds will affect the level of these particles in the air, so we ask everyone to remember that smoke and ash can be harmful to health, even for people who are healthy,” said Dr. Muntu Davis, the health officer for Los Angeles County.
“If you can see smoke, soot, or ash, or you can smell smoke, pay attention to your immediate environment and take precautions to safeguard your health,” Davis said. “These precautions are particularly important for children, older adults, and people with heart or lung diseases.”
Davis said it was important to avoid unnecessary outdoor exposure and limit physical exertion — whether indoor or outdoor — until conditions improve. Children and people who have air quality-sensitive conditions, such as heart disease, asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases, should stay indoors as much as possible, even in areas where smoke, soot or ash cannot be seen or there is no smell of smoke, according to health officials.
Wildfire smoke is a mixture of small particles, gases and water vapor, with small particles being the primary health concern. Those small particles can cause burning eyes, runny nose, scratchy throat, headaches and illness, such as bronchitis. People with sensitive conditions may experience difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, fatigue and chest pain.
“We are also advising schools and recreational programs that are in session in smoke-impacted areas to suspend outside physical activities, including physical education and after-school sports, until conditions improve,” Davis said. “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 a smell of smoke. This also applies to other recreational outdoor activities, such as hiking or picnics, in these areas.”
Participating in indoor sports or other strenuous activity in areas with visible smoke, soot or ash is OK — if the indoor location has air conditioning that does not draw air from the outside, and has closed windows and doors to protect the cleanliness of indoor air.
Health officials offered the following recommendations to protect from the harmful effects of unhealthy or poor air quality:
— If you see or smell smoke or see a lot of particles and ash in the air, avoid unnecessary outdoor activity to limit exposure to harmful air, especially important for anyone 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.
— 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. If life-threatening, contact 911.
— 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.
— Practice safe clean-up following a fire. Follow the ash clean-up and food safety instructions at: publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/docs/ReturningHomeAfterAFire.pdf.
The following is recommended 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 or an inability to catch their breath. Symptoms for cats are less noticeable but may include panting or an inability to catch their breath.
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