GLENDALE — Firefighters received a boost Monday from calmer winds that helped officials douse three blazes that have so far charred more than 38,960 acres and caked parts of the region in a thin layer of ash.
The more hospitable conditions for firefighters helped increase the quality of air that had been dangerously unhealthy because of toxic pollutants in the wake of fires in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Orange counties, officials said.
But Sam Atwood, spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, warned Monday that the respite could be temporary if winds that had initially helped flames whip through the hills above Los Angeles and the surrounding region return.
On Monday, the district listed air quality for a wide of swath of Los Angeles County, including Glendale and Burbank, as “unhealthy” due to a thin layer of patchy smoke in the air.
Conditions are expected to improve this week as the temperature falls and winds die down. Record-breaking heat last weekend that fueled fires is expected to give way to a high of 82 degrees today and 76 degrees Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.
The district is slated to downgrade its air quality assessment today to “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” meaning those with existing heart or lung conditions and asthmatics should not exercise strenuously outdoors, Atwood said.
But the damage from flying particulate matter and floating toxins have given rise to an increase in the number of patients at area hospitals.
At Glendale Memorial Hospital and Glendale Adventist Medical Center, officials reported a 20% jump in patients who complained of respiratory troubles.
Most of the new patients that streamed in last weekend and Monday were young children and older residents whose ability to withstand respiratory problems may not be as strong as others breathing in the harsh atmospheric conditions, said David Han, a Glendale Adventist physician.
“Pediatrics breathe more heavily and seniors don’t have as strong a defense mechanism,” he said. “And people who smoke have poor lung capacity.”
Most of the patients admitted since fires broke out in Sylmar and Chino Hills did not require extended stays, though doctors did issue certain warnings to patients and those wishing to steer clear of the hospital.
Edmund Noll, a Glendale Memorial physician, said masks that cover one’s mouth should be worn if exposed to smoky conditions, but residents should stay inside with air conditioning to lessen the impact of unhealthy air.
If residents have trouble breathing, he suggested drinking water and avoiding areas that have noticeably poor air quality.
“You know, common-sense things,” he said.
As of Monday afternoon, officials contained Sylmar’s Sayre fire and the Freeway Complex fire in Orange County by 40%. According to the Los Angeles Fire Department, the Sayre blaze, named for the street in Sylmar where the fire was first reported, has so far caused up to $3.5 million in damage and injured five firefighters and one civilian, who was listed in serious condition.
About 615 residential and commercial structures were damaged or destroyed by the Sayre fire that has so far blackened 10,077 acres, officials said.
At least 259 residential units were damaged or destroyed in Brea, Yorba Linda, Anaheim/Anaheim Hills and Corona in the Freeway Complex fire, which was first reported at 9:01 a.m. Saturday in Riverside County along the Riverside (91) Freeway, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
The Tea Fire in Montecito outside Santa Barbara is now fully contained, but it burned 1,940 acres and destroyed 210 homes in its wake, Santa Barbara officials said Monday.
Among the 3,699 state, county and city personnel helping to extinguish the Freeway Fire blaze are four Glendale Fire Department crews, including one water tender — a uniquely outfitted fire engine that transports water to a blaze — with two firefighters aboard and one battalion chief, Glendale Fire Department Capt. Tom Propst said.
Three Burbank strike teams, a water tender and one battalion chief were first pressed into action when the Tea Fire broke out Thursday and have since moved to Sylmar and Orange County, Burbank Fire Department Capt. Ron Bell said.
No injuries were reported for fire crews from Burbank or Glendale, who will continue helping to extinguish the existing blazes as needed, Bell said.