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Colby fire: Plume of smoke, ash prompts air quality advisories

Wildfires

A rapidly growing fire in the foothills of Glendora showered a wide area of Los Angeles County with smoke and ash Thursday, prompting air quality alerts across the region.

As hundreds of firefighters raced to the Angeles National Forest to battle the Colby fire, the South Coast Air Quality Management District warned that air quality was forecast to quickly plummet to unhealthy levels across the region.

They urged residents from the San Gabriel Valley to the Pomona Valley to stay indoors, with the towering plume visible to residents from West Los Angeles to Orange County.

PHOTOS: Colby fire rages near Glendora

But it was in the more immediate area of the fire that the AQMD warned that air quality would be "unhealthy for everyone and possibly worse,” agency spokesman Sam Atwood said.

Smoke and ash from the fire, which exploded to cover more than 1,700 acres in a matter of hours Thursday morning, could affect people with lung and heart disease and asthma as far south as Long Beach, Atwood said.

Commuters on the 10 Freeway reported seeing the flames from as far away as West Covina, with cars emerging from the area caked in dust and ash.

Winds were gusting up to 30 mph Thursday morning and were projected to climb to 40 mph by Thursday night, said Scott Sukup of the National Weather Service. With relative humidity expected to remain in the single digits through Friday and temperatures forecast to hover in the 80s and 90s, “it’s not going to get any better” for firefighters Thursday, he added.

Crews will also have to deal with unpredictable winds at lower elevations where cooler air is being pulled up toward the fire, Sukup said.

“The biggest thing, the hardest thing to predict with the immediate area, are what the winds at the lower elevations are going to do,” he said.

Meanwhile, the AQMD is working to get accurate air quality readings from the area, officials said. Two monitors near the fire don’t appear to be in the path of the smoke, Atwood said, but the agency is sending two portable monitors into the area and expects more accurate readings by the afternoon.

If you can see or smell the smoke, stay in doors and avoid vigorous exercise, Atwood said. Close windows and run an air conditioner if you have one. Paper and surgical masks will not protect you from the pollution, he said. 

The AQMD will post air quality alerts online

Meanwhile, Times reporters were tweeting photos of the smoke cloud.

What the San Gabriel Valley Brush fire looks like from South Pasadena California. pic.twitter.com/Z4Ru0Z1jur

— James Rainey (@LATimesrainey) January 16, 2014

Smoke from Glendora fire thick in Long Beach, about 8:30 am. #GlendoraFire pic.twitter.com/0CQmmnguyU

— Jack Dolan (@jackdolanLAT) January 16, 2014

Cloud of smoke from #ColbyFire looks ominous from the 10 fwy going into #DTLA pic.twitter.com/XxGx0qMiUO

— Sam Schaefer (@Sam_Schaefer) January 16, 2014

And here's the sky I'm Glendora.... #colbyfire pic.twitter.com/KdpLdHvfzq

— Christine Mai-Duc (@cmaiduc) January 16, 2014

#Wildfire smoke casting eerie glow over downtown #LA. pic.twitter.com/pftsA2y53N

— Joel Rubin (@joelrubin) January 16, 2014

Took this earlier today in Silver Lake: So much smoke from the #ColbyFire hanging over downtown LA. pic.twitter.com/szdm8yvT4L

— Laura J. Nelson (@laura_nelson) January 16, 2014

#Incredible scene of #Colbyfire plume rising above Los Angeles skyline http://t.co/gTuE4lgdSy pic.twitter.com/d5CZR5XLjI

— Marc Martin (@latpix) January 16, 2014

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@Sam_Schaefer | @josephserna

Samantha.Schaefer@latimes.com | Joseph.serna@latimes.com

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