Despite stern warnings that the air quality in much of Southern California is bad enough to make one sick, many residents Saturday opted to chance it -- deciding another day of cabin fever was worse.
"I realize the risk, but a morning like this is one of the few times I can come out and get some exercise," said writer Steve Becos, 51, as he shot baskets at Pan Pacific Park near The Grove shopping center.
But instead of joining the full-court game nearby, he said, "I'm taking it a little easy."
For a week, the region's massive wildfires have spewed unhealthful concentrations of soot, ash and other tiny particles into the air throughout the Los Angeles Basin. Strong winds have spread this dirty air far from the fires.
Health officials say that breathing such particles, especially during vigorous exercise, could cause them to lodge deep in the lungs and create serious health problems. The very young, the elderly and those with respiratory or cardiac ailments are most vulnerable.
Such warnings caused many residents this week to rethink their morning run or bicycle ride. Schools largely kept students indoors through recess and lunch, and some closed playgrounds after school. Some health food stores even did a brisk business in such post-fire herbal detoxes as "Heavy Metal Cleanse."
Saturday, however, parks and other outdoor areas were bustling. Some parents said they'd brave anything rather than face another long day of entertaining their children indoors. Others shrugged it off as the price of living in Los Angeles.
"We don't have good air quality here anyway," said attorney Wendell Hall, 38, after her 6-year-old daughter's soccer game at Pan Pacific Park, where hundreds congregated.
Even in San Bernardino County, where the air still reeked of smoke, Erasmel Carreno, 24, said the lure of catfish hiding out in Silverwood Lake outweighed the health risks.
"It's been smoky, I have a little bit of a sore throat," Carreno said outside Turner's Outdoorsman store where he was buying fishing hooks. He'd been out past 2 a.m. Saturday hoping for a bite.
"We didn't catch anything last night," Carreno said, laughing and vowing revenge that afternoon. "Those warnings are not going to stop us."
Loretta Mitchell said she wasn't worried about driving from her Lynwood home to San Bernardino so that her two daughters could perform with their drill team, the Stylish & Genuine Stompers -- even though her youngest has asthma. "I'm not worried because they're inside," she said.
Some who fled the fires said Saturday they were just tired of being holed up in shelters and could use a breath of -- even if not so fresh -- air.
"We're evacuees, so there's nothing else really to do," said Brad Pattison of Lake Arrowhead, as he prepared to take his 8-year-old son Isaac fishing in the Yucaipa area.
"We're out of the smoke," Pattison said. "It's not as bad out there."
Although the air in most of Los Angeles County improved to moderate Saturday, the South Coast Air Quality Management District had advised people in much of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties not to exert themselves this weekend.
For some, the advisories still held sway Saturday, even if they weren't near a fire zone.
Some youth sports league websites announced the cancellation of all games. The site for the American Youth Soccer Organization 33 Region, which serves the Encino area, had a link to the AQMD website and about a dozen comments from parents and others urging that games be canceled.
"Our children's health is more important than playing this game," read one posting. "I am an assistant coach and am encouraging our team to stay at home."
Daphne Subar of Studio City said she was relieved that all of her three young daughters' soccer games were canceled.
"They've been coming from school saying that their throats are burning, that their eyes are burning," she said. She was especially worried about her 12-year-old. "The kids get older, they are really running in these games," she said.
Some smoke-wary residents downwind of the fires sought even greater protection, hitting up health food stores such as Mother's Market and Kitchen in Irvine.
Assistant Manager Bryan Koch said he's been selling a number of herbal remedies including "Heavy Metal Cleanse" from Renew Life and "green" powders containing cilantro and spirulina, an algae. Some customers have been concerned that smoke from the nearby Santiago Canyon fire could carry chemicals from burning plastics and petroleum.
"A lot of them are looking for heavy metal detoxes," Koch said.
Wild Oats Market in Long Beach has sold lots of tiny containers called "neti pots" this week, used for natural irrigation of the sinuses, said Steven Kleindorfer, manager of the vitamin section. "Everyone felt like they couldn't breathe or they had allergies," he said.
But during an antiwar march in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, protesters said there were more important things to worry about than dirty air.
"The air is probably really bad in Iraq," said Susan Jones, 73, a teacher in Ventura County. "In fact, it's probably worse in Iraq."
Times staff writer Deborah Schoch contributed to this report.