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Crews begin to make progress in containing Bobcat fire as smoke smothers L.A.

Smoke loomed over Azusa on Wednesday as the Bobcat fire burned in the Angeles National Forest.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Smoke continued to clog the air over the San Gabriel Valley and parts of eastern Los Angeles on Friday morning as crews gained a small toehold on the Bobcat fire after several days of unchecked burning.

The blaze has now seared more than 26,000 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service, and is continuing to move deeper into the Angeles National Forest. It was 6% contained as of Friday morning.

Stephen Cooper, an Altadena resident and fitness instructor, said the smoke was so thick Friday morning that he canceled his outdoor fitness class.

A man walks on Santa Fe Dam as smoke rises from Bobcat fire in the San Gabriel Mountains above Duarte.
A man walks on the Santa Fe Dam as smoke rises from the Bobcat fire in the San Gabriel Mountains above Duarte.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
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“This morning I could smell smoke and then looked at the [air quality index] and that was 205 — ‘very unhealthy,’” he said. “I’m usually hammering on my clients about the importance of consistency when it comes to training and healthy eating, but when it’s unhealthy like this, it makes no sense to push it.”

The South Coast Air Quality Management District said smoke advisories will remain in effect throughout the day. Areas along the 210 Freeway from Pasadena to Rancho Cucamonga are likely to see the highest levels of particulate matter.

“Even in areas far from fires or areas not covered by a smoke advisory, if you can smell smoke or see ash from a wildfire, avoid or limit outdoor activities,” the district said.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has warned that most of Southern California will be affected by smoke from blazes burning near and far.

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Cooper said he hasn’t been sleeping well and has been keeping his bedroom curtains open “so as to keep an eye on the mountains above me.”

Altadena is one of seven communities that remain under an evacuation warning, along with Monrovia, Arcadia, Bradbury, Sierra Madre, Duarte and Pasadena.

“I’ve seen the flames from past fires, and they can be wicked,” said Cooper, whose fitness class wasn’t the only outdoor activity canceled by the smoke.

Poor air quality also contributed to the closure of eight parks in Los Angeles County: Eaton Canyon, Devil’s Punchbowl, Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park, Lario Staging Area, Marshall Canyon, Peck Road Water Conservation Park, San Dimas Canyon Natural Area and Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area.

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The closures, which will remain throughout the weekend, were ordered “in the best interest of park guests, community and staff,” the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation said.

L.A. County Fire Capt. David Dantic said Friday morning that crews are expecting the fire to continue burning away from neighboring communities.

“Our main objective is to put a whole containment line around the fire, but probably the most active area today will be in the north, northeast of the fire,” Dantic said.

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Fears of a significant spread of the Bobcat fire dissipated as Santa Ana winds failed to materialize, but foothill communities remain on high alert.

As the fire continues moving through the forest, some foothill communities are cautiously optimistic.

In Arcadia — in an area significantly threatened by the fire earlier this week — voluntary evacuation notices were lifted Wednesday. A Red Cross evacuation point at the Santa Anita Racetrack closed Thursday after the fire shifted away from the region, although the agency is continuing to monitor its spread, Red Cross Los Angeles spokewoman Marium Mohiuddin said.

“As the situation changes and grows, the Red Cross is in touch with community partners to see how we can help,” she said. “If that means reopening an evacuation point, we’ll definitely do that.”

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The Red Cross is currently offering virtual and telephone assistance for anyone affected by the fire.

Residents in other areas, however, remain on pins and needles as flames in the nearby hills burn visibly red.

In Monrovia, police had to break up traffic jams caused by spectators who came to take photos of the fire Thursday night, city officials said.

“As we patrolled neighborhoods, it became clear that many of the people causing the traffic were coming in from out of town — some as far as Long Beach and Orange County — to observe and photograph the fire,” the city said in an update Friday morning.

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Portions of the blaze are still creeping toward the community, and Monrovia police have set up checkpoints to discourage “everyone, especially visitors and gawkers, from impeding potential evacuation routes.”

Air quality officials said the high pollution readings were a result of intense heat combined with stagnant weather conditions.

Although crews will focus on the northeastern flank of the fire Friday, the forest’s steep, rocky terrain makes it difficult to reach certain areas on foot, Dantic said, and retardant drops that helped keep the fire in check overnight could be hampered by low-visibility conditions.

“Helicopters and air support can only go if the weather cooperates, if they can actually see,” he said. “The smoke and the marine layer have contributed to us not flying at certain times in the day.”

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The Bobcat fire ignited Sunday and is currently one of more than 25 wildfires burning across California. It burned for five days with no containment and doubled in size in one day before shifting away from foothill communities.

“Being such a large footprint, it’s something,” Dantic said of the 6% containment attained since Thursday. “Of course, we want 100%.”


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