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Sand fire updates: More than 38,000 acres burned in Santa Clarita Valley mountains

The effort to control the raging Sand fire in the Santa Clarita Valley mountains has drawn firefighters and emergency crews in the hills toward Acton. So far, the fire has burned 38,346 acres.

A total of 2,937 firefighters are battling the blaze, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The wildfire prompted the evacuation of at least 10,000 homes, although late Monday, officials allowed most evacuees to return to their homes. The blaze is 40% contained. At least 18 homes have been destroyed.

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Firefighters gaining control of Sand fire in Santa Clarita Valley

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Sand fire prompts state of emergency for Los Angeles County

A state of emergency was issued Tuesday for Los Angeles County, where the Sand fire has scorched 37,473 acres, destroyed homes and led to at least one fatality.

Acting Gov. Tom Torlakson, the state’s top education official, who is filling in this week for Gov. Jerry Brown, issued the emergency order, a move that helps get aid swiftly to affected communities.

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Unhealthy air quality near Sand fire

The South Coast Air Quality Management District extended a smoke advisory for the Antelope Valley, Santa Clarita Valley and parts of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Officials warned that the air could reach unhealthy levels on account of the smoke.

Children, older adults and those with respiratory or heart disease were advised to remain inside and keep windows and doors closed.

The apocalyptic haze from the Sand fire has triggered air-quality advisories as far away as Reno.

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Smoke residents are seeing near Sand fire is from controlled burns, authorities say

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Map: Sand fire evacuation shelters and evacuation areas

(LA Times Graphics)

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‘Her house is gone, her boyfriend is gone’

Firefighters in Santa Clarita battle the Sand fire amid sweltering temperatures and heavy winds.
Firefighters in Santa Clarita battle the Sand fire amid sweltering temperatures and heavy winds.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

The Sand fire has been blamed for one fatality.

Robert Bresnick, 67, was discovered dead about 7:20 p.m. Saturday inside a burned car parked in a driveway outside a home in the 26700 block of Iron Canyon Road in Santa Clarita.

Bresnick was visiting a friend when evacuation orders went out to residents, said Ed Winter, spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. But Bresnick was apparently “uncooperative,” and did not want to leave, he said.

Neighbors on Tuesday said he was trying to rescue his dogs and got caught in the fire. Residents said his girlfriend fled with her pet before the flames ran through the home.

Morgan Franklin, who lives across the street from the home, said the couple had three dogs.

“Her house is gone, her boyfriend is gone,” Franklin said. “It’s crazy.”

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State of local emergency declared due to Sand fire

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Lancaster prison hosts deaf dogs evacuated from Sand fire area

A Lancaster prison is providing shelter for rescue animals as the Sand fire continues to burn in the Santa Clarita Valley.

The State Prison-Los Angeles County is watching over nearly 50 deaf dogs from the Deaf Dog Rescue of America in Acton, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The rescue said it struggled to find a place that would be able to accept all of the dogs, which are now being cared for by inmates.

“It wasn’t mandatory, nor did we have impending flames licking at our heels,” the rescue wrote on Facebook. “We decided to be better safe than sorry because we love our dogs here. They come first, always.”

The state prison is home to Karma Rescue, a rehabilitative program in which professionals and inmates train shelter dogs in basic obedience and socialization to prepare them for adoption.

“We struggled to find a place that would be able to take all of the dogs,” the deaf dog rescue said. “We arrived to find the man-cages ready for the dogs ... food, water, beds, igloos!”

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Residents slowly trickling back into areas hit by the Sand fire

Along the winding, narrow, two-lane Little Tujunga Canyon Road, the canyons are black and sun beams are obscured by the smoke. The strong smell of smoke wafts through the air.

There wind has subsided since Monday and it’s mostly quiet — save for the chirping birds, the helicopters overhead and the occasional rustle from ashy trees starting to crumble.

Street signs are blackened. A sign with a fire gauge leading into the canyon still has the arrow to the highest fire danger: critical.

At one of the burned homes on the road, there are crumpled yellow firemen’s hoses left in the steep driveway.

The house is destroyed, but the “For Sale” sign out front remains intact. Its walls are collapsed, with the wooden roof beam resting in the living room, broken red clay roof tiles surrounding the house and bubbled exterior house paint flapping in the breeze.

Despite the destruction, people slowly filtered into the repopulated areas.

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Crews make progress in battle against 37,000-acre Sand fire

Firefighters reported progress Tuesday in the battle against the Sand fire that has scorched the Santa Clarita Valley and cast a pall over parts of Los Angeles County.

The blaze grew slightly to 37,473 acres, but more than 3,000 firefighters worked through the night and were able to make some progress. The fire is now 25% contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Although the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department allowed most residents to return home Monday evening, hundreds of residents in three areas were still under evacuation orders.

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Confusion and uncertainty in the small town of Acton: ‘This is the worst fire I’ve ever seen’

Flames rear up in the mountains near Acton as nearly 3,000 firefighters converge on the Sand fire.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Driving through the tiny town of Acton, nearly every roadway is blocked going into the canyons and mountains. Fire trucks line the street here and firefighters sleep in the city park.

Tony Stubbins lives full-time in his RV, a dream he and his wife long had. His wife died a few years ago, and he kept to their plan.

He stays in his RV at the Thousand Trails Soledad Canyon campsite near Acton, a site he’s been around since he was a kid. On Sunday, Stubbins, 61, and the others in RVs were evacuated as the Sand fire burned closer.

“The sky turned yellow,” Stubbins said. He knew the flames were near, and the sun was reflecting off them.

“The sheriff came through,” Stubbins said, “and said, ‘Everybody’s got to go.’”

He grabbed his campsite neighbor, who was staying in a tent, and fled down Crown Valley Road, amid a traffic jam of RVs.

In the four decades he’s lived in the Acton area, he said, “this is the worst fire I’ve ever seen. It just keeps changing directions.”

On Monday afternoon, Stubbins and a few others who live in RVs were perched on chairs on the front porch outside the Original Acton Market, shooting the breeze with anyone who walked in. He parked his RV outside and stayed there for the night.

The store owners, evacuees said, kept the shop open late, even as nearby businesses closed and employees left to evacuate.

Evacuees were allowed to plug in a coffee pot and make themselves at home. When the owner finally left late Sunday, he put out a big pan of ribs for those on the porch.

It’s a small town, Stubbins said, and everyone looks out for each other.

One cashier said people have been frantically calling the store, checking to see whether the store was open as seemingly all the highway exits into town closed.

Uncertainty lingered in Acton over what was closed down and where exactly the fire was.

“There’s a lot of confusion,” Stubbins said. “We just want people to know the people of Acton are here. People are frustrated. There’s not been much on the news about Acton.”

With scant specific information in the news, people are asking firefighters at the barricades and along the streets for reliable information.

As the group of evacuees chatted on the porch, a Beverly Hills fire truck rolled by on Smith Avenue.

“Hey, look, Beverly Hills!” one man shouted.

When a Beverly Hills firefighter in his yellow suit came to the store’s front door, the men joked with him.

“Hey, Beverly Hills!” one person said. “From Coldwater Canyon Drive all the way to Acton!”

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Most evacuees from Sand fire allowed to return home, fire officials say

Firefighters in Santa Clarita battle the Sand fire amid sweltering temperatures and heavy winds.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

The majority of the estimated 20,000 people evacuated from the Sand fire will be allowed to return home tonight, fire officials said.

The downgrade of evacuations comes as the fire grew Monday to 35,155 acres and remained 10% contained, according to the Los Angeles County fire department.

After 7 p.m., all evacuation orders will be lifted except for residents in three areas:

  • Placerita Canyon Road from Running Horse Lane to Pacy Street
  • Little Tujunga Canyon Road from the Wildlife Way Station to where Sand Canyon Road meets Placerita Canyon Road
  • Agua Dulce Canyon Road from just south of the 14 Freeway to the intersection with Soledad Canyon Road; and for one mile in either direction along Soledad Canyon Road from the intersection with Agua Dulce Road
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‘They saved my house.... They are absolutely heroes.’

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Canyon Country residents Steve Jefferies and John Myers, who chose not to evacuate, talk about firefighting efforts.

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The Sand fire, as seen from space

Satellite imagery obtained Sunday during a flyover by NASA’s Landsat satellite shows the burn scar left by the more than 30,000-acre Sand fire.

The satellite image also shows smoke plumes and hot spots where the fire has continued to smolder.

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A menagerie of more than 760 pets has been displaced by the Sand fire

Horses are evacuated along Sand Canyon Road as the Sand fire approaches Santa Clarita.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

It’s not just humans who have fled the destruction of the Sand fire.

The blaze has displaced 165 goats, 111 chickens, 33 pigs and even a Brahma bull, which are now among the nearly 770 animals at shelters under the care of Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control workers.

Eight shelters have opened for animals affected by the blaze, which broke out Friday afternoon and has raced through the canyons above Los Angeles.

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Sand fire leaves a scorch mark

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Shelter guards wildlife from flames, saving camels, tigers and lions

Fire flares up in brush along Soledad Canyon Road near Acton on Monday.
Fire flares up in brush along Soledad Canyon Road near Acton on Monday.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Susan Hartland, executive director of Wildlife Waystation, looked through glass doors at the sanctuary in the Angeles National Forest on Monday and saw a plume of smoke coming from the back of a mountain. That’s what she saw Friday, too, just before she had to start loading up lions and tigers and other assorted animals for evacuations.

“That’s how it started,” she said, staring at the smoke.

When the massive Sand fire erupted Friday along the 14 Freeway at Sand Canyon, 30- to 50-mph winds fanned the flames on hillsides carpeted with tinder-like chaparral, pushing them into the national forest.

Those flames made their way toward the Wildlife Waystation at about 7 p.m. Two hours later, Hartland and more than 20 staff and volunteers began evacuating about 50 wild animals including reptiles, camels, tigers and lions.

She said when the Station fire forced the sanctuary to evacuate, staff and volunteers had 48 hours. But in the Sand fire, they only had two hours.

Some of the animals had to be sedated as they were being transported to nearby facilities, she said, and some chimps and bears had to be left behind.

“You can only hope for the best,” she said.

It was about 3 a.m. Saturday when she and members of the sanctuary were allowed to go back up and check on the animals. The fire didn’t reach the sanctuary, and all of the animals were safe, she said.

“It was short of a miracle,” Hartland said. “We were lucky.”

She said the fire still poses a threat. Although the blaze most likely won’t burn in their direction, winds could drive embers into the area and once again threaten the sanctuary, which is going to be celebrating its 40th anniversary in September.

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Air quality around Sand fire is ‘like being around second-hand smoke,’ expert says

The danger posed by the Sand fire depends on how close people are to the flames, said Mark Morocco, a clinical professor of emergency medicine at UCLA.

If people are close enough that the fire is actually in their neighborhood or yard, there is fine particulate matter, such as ash, that can trigger asthma and cardiac stress in people with chronic lung disease, he said.

Those who are very close also risk carbon monoxide poisoning, he added.

With smoke plumes, there also is the danger of chemicals in the air, he said.

If there’s a fire burning in an area with poison ivy or poison oak, for example, chemicals from the plants can get into the smoke and actually cause lungs to burn like skin.

When fires burn buildings and structures, there can be metals, arsenic and benzines in the smoke. The air, he said, could be worse than a bad smog day because of all of the extra substances in it.

For everyone, it is best to “throttle down on your exercise” and get to places with better air quality, Morocco said.

“It’s like being around second-hand smoke,” he said. “This is a good time to sort of chill out.”

People, even healthy ones, can feel “more snotty,” and sound like they have a so-called smoker’s cough and feel sluggish or like they have chest heaviness if they inhale much of this air, he said.

People who are anxious or have depression also could be genuinely affected by the sight of the smoke, he said.

“People feel anxious about it when the sky looks like a zombie apocalypse, when the sky is red and these smoke plumes are on the horizon,” Morocco said. “If you have anxiety, you’re going to feel worse, or if you have depression, you could actually get depressed.”

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‘After the apocalypse, the only thing that will have survived are cockroaches, Keith Richards and that table’

The home of Bruce Sanborn and Suzi Fox on Little Tujunga Canyon Road that was lost to the Sand fire.
The home of Bruce Sanborn and Suzi Fox on Little Tujunga Canyon Road that was lost to the Sand fire.
(Bruce Sanborn)

Bruce Sanborn, 55, and his partner, Suzi Fox, 56, and her daughter Halie Fox, 14, lost the house they’d lived in on Little Tujunga Canyon Road for 2½ years, next to Bruce’s mother’s house.

The day before the fire started, Suzi noticed a sign with a dial that said the fire danger was “critical,” the highest rating. She’d never seen it that high, she said.

On Friday afternoon, they saw the smoke as they were driving home, but it seemed pretty far from where they lived. They know they live in a wildfire-prone area, but the wind was blowing in the opposite direction, so they thought they were in the clear.

In the evening, the winds shifted and blew the fire right toward them. Suzi had gone to pick up Halie from a friend’s house, and a few minutes later, driving back up the hill, they were surprised to see the street barricaded. It was about 11:30 p.m.

“I was, like, wait a minute, I just came down this, what’s going on?” she said. “I got up to the driveway, and all of a sudden, there were lights. The sheriffs were there. I was, like, why is he following me?”

Suzi said they were told they needed to evacuated. “Now,” a deputy said.

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More than 760 animals rescued from Sand fire

(Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control)

More than 760 animals have been rescued from the Sand fire and are being taken care of in nine locations, officials said.

The Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control is watching more than 345 horses, 165 goats, 111 chickens and 33 pigs. In all, 768 animals are being taken care of.

The agency and partner groups are caring for a host of other animals, including llamas, mules, rabbits, donkeys and a Brahma bull.

Shelter locations include the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds, Hansen Dam and Pierce College.

County of Los Angeles Animal Care Centers at Lancaster, Agoura, Castaic and Palmdale are taking in evacuated pets, including dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs.

Care is also being provided at the Hart and Highland evacuation shelters.

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Road closures, evacuation centers and mandatory evacuation areas in Santa Clarita

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Sand fire won’t scare residents into leaving town for good

Tarannum Alam was about to do a load of laundry Saturday afternoon when she heard a police officer at the front door telling her she needed to evacuate her Robinson Ranch home in Canyon Country.

The fire that had been growing rapidly was now coming toward their community. Alam said she was surprised.

“I thought the fire is not going to come out this far,” Alam, 42, said. “I didn’t expect to be leaving.”

All day, she said, things seemed peaceful -- even with a fire raging several miles away.

Firefighters were in the neighborhood as well as police. Her children stood outside taking videos of the large plume of smoke in the distance and scoped out the fire trucks and firefighters.

Even Alam’s niece and nephew who were visiting from Ohio found the ash falling from the sky was like the snowflakes amusing.

But now Alam said she had to think fast. She grabbed cash, her wallet and passport. She got all four kids and her sister into her Toyota Sienna and quickly made her way down the Sand Canyon Road.

“Thank God we don’t have any pets,” she said.

As she drove away, she saw the fire coming down a slope of a mountain, bringing smoke, ash and hot winds.

In the back seat, Alam’s 6-year-old daughter, Zohra, cried while the other children took videos with their cell phones.

“My sister was praying to God that our house stays safe,” Alam said.

What would have taken a few minutes to get down the canyon instead took a 30 minutes.

“Traffic was really heavy,” she said. “We had to also pull to the side because of the fire trucks.”

“I have never seen so many fire trucks in my life,” she added.

Alam, who has lived in her home for 11 years, she said likes the wildlife and the mountain setting.

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful area,” Alam said. “Even with this fire I’m not moving out.”

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‘She’s going to lay there and burn to death? I can’t bear that.’

The Sand fire burns along Soledad Canyon Road near Acton.
The Sand fire burns along Soledad Canyon Road near Acton.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Chris Pease loved the rustic home nestled in the canyon that she and her husband shared with assorted animals, including goats, chickens and their horse Abby.

But during a trip to Michigan, her husband, Drew, decided to travel to Kentucky to scout out a possible new home.

While he was away, the Sand fire swept through the Santa Clarita Valley, scorching more than 30,000 acres, forcing evacuations from at least 10,000 homes and destroying at least 18 structures. Among them was the Pease home of 17 years, which sat on 13 acres on Oak Springs Canyon Road.

“I’m coming back and we’re going to liquidate,” Drew Pease, 71, told his wife before the fire.

“I guess God did it for us,” Chris, 66, said late Sunday.

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Sand fire ‘is a big animal,’ officials say

A firefighting helicopter drops water on the Sand fire as it burns out of control along Soledad Canyon Road near Acton.
A firefighting helicopter drops water on the Sand fire as it burns out of control along Soledad Canyon Road near Acton.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

More than 130 people have been evacuated to the rehabilitation center in Acton, including staff and those receiving treatment, Supervisor Michael Antonovich said at a news conference Monday.

Officials plan to declare a state of emergency on Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, which will help with reimbursement for firefighting efforts, Antonovich said.

Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said firefighters had a “a ferocious firefight yesterday” and more than 80 fire engines were deployed from his department alone.

One team drove into a community to protect structures, he said, and it was so smoky they could barely see the front of fire trucks. When the crew was reassigned from one part of fire to another to protect additional structures, they were surprised to see people still there.

“Citizens were there trying to evacuate, trying to get animals out at the same time they’re trying to go in and protect homes,” Osby said. “They were saddened by the fact that they lost structures and part of the conversation was that they felt they lost additional structures because they had to stop what they were doing to help citizens evacuate.”

Osby said that it is important for residents to “get their animals and loved ones out promptly” when authorities call for an evacuation.

Several thousand homes were saved because of firefighters going in at the most critical times to save them, he said

In all, nearly 3,000 people, 341 engines, 42 crews and 21 helicopters are battling the blaze, authorities said.

“Explosive conditions” have fueled the fire, officials said, leading it to burn an average of about 10,000 acres a day, or “10,000 football fields a day.”

“This is a big animal,” said Chief Mike Wakoski, incident commander for SoCal Team 3. “Containment of the fire is going to be slow.”

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Video: What we know about the Sand fire so far

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Wind-whipped flames raged overnight in the steep, rugged mountains of the Santa Clarita Valley, charring more than 33,000 acres and threatening thousands of homes.

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Dramatic video shows the flames firefighters are facing in the Sand fire

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One firefighter loses home to flames for the second time

A firefighting helicopter hovers close to the flames from the Sand fire as it burns out of control along Soledad Canyon Road.
A firefighting helicopter hovers close to the flames from the Sand fire as it burns out of control along Soledad Canyon Road.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

At a news conference Monday morning, fire officials said a total of five homes associated with the Bear Divide Ranger Station had been lost.

Four of those structures were occupied by forest service employees and three of the four were occupied by firefighting personnel, said Chief Robert Garcia, a forest fire management officer for Angeles National Forest.

“Of those three, two of them were involved in the fire fight that day on the Sand fire,” Garcia said. “One was on a hotshot crew assigned to the fire at Camp Pendleton.”

One of the firefighters had also previously lost his home in 2009 on the Station fire, Garcia said, so he has lost his home twice.

“That’s not very common for sure,” Garcia said.

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Sand fire burning ‘so quickly and so rapidly,’ officials say

Firefighters from all over California swarmed the command center at Golden Valley High School in Santa Clarita on Monday, catching a quick nap in their fire engine or grabbing a cup of coffee after a Monday morning briefing.

They came from Chino Hills, Anaheim, Corona, Los Angeles and other fire departments to battle the blaze that has burned 33,117 acres burned so far.

Ash swirled down in the air around the high school as authorities announced the latest update: The fire is still just 10% contained.

More than 20,000 civilians and 10,300 structures have been evacuated. Eighteen structures have been destroyed, said Justin Correll, an engine captain in San Bernardino National Forest.

There are 2,964 firefighters, with orders for more, who are coming from all over the nation, he said. Not all the firefighters will be battling the flames, he said.

“We have some of the highest skill, highest trained wild land firefighters in the nation on this fire right now,” Correll said.

Correll shared a story of a family who had not evacuated and stayed behind in their home in Sand Canyon. An ember from the fire went into their attic and caught it on fire, he said.

Los Angeles County firefighters were able to save the home, he said. There were multiple people inside.

“It was just a great save,” he said.

Difficulties in containment include high winds and low fuel moisture of vegetation.

“With that, getting next to the fire is very difficult, because the fire is almost acting in an explosive manner,” he said. “It’s burning so quickly and so rapidly that our firefighters are getting in and doing a lot of great work, but to get in and do some of that stuff safely is very difficult.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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AQMD warns air quality may reach unhealthy level in areas directly affected by smoke from the Sand fire

The South Coast Air Quality Management District warned residents in the Forest Park area Monday that air quality may reach an unhealthy level in areas directly hit by smoke from the Sand fire.

Smoke is expected to move toward the north and northeast today, the AQMD said, with the greatest impact likely in the areas near the fire: Acton and the Antelope Valley.

Portions of the Santa Clarita Valley and the San Gabriel Mountains will be left with unhealthy air, the AQMD said.

The AQMD advised residents in any area affected by smoke to avoid vigorous outdoor or indoor activities. People with respiratory or heart disease, older adults and children should stay inside, the agency said.

In addition, windows and doors should remain closed, or residents should seek alternate shelter.

“Run your air conditioner if you have one and keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent bringing additional smoke inside,” the AQMD said, adding that people should avoid using a swamp cooler or whole-house fan to prevent bringing additional smoke inside.

Residents were also advised not to use wood-burning appliances, including fireplaces.