Fueled by Santa Ana winds, California wildfires have spread across much of Southern California, causing sizable damage in Orange County, Santa Barbara County and Los Angeles County. This year’s wildfires have also been unique in that they have affected a larger area of Northern California than in previous years, with notable effects felt in Monterey County and near the Oregon border.
Of the three major Southern California fires, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) reports suspected arson in the Santa Barbara County fire, which has destroyed 210 homes and injured two people. Seventy-five percent of the fire was contained as of Sunday.
Los Angeles County’s Sayre fire, 20 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, was 30 percent contained as of Sunday and had thus far destroyed nine homes, 10 businesses and 500 mobile homes. The Los Angeles County Police have not yet received missing persons reports.
With winds down from 80 mph to 25 mph, the Orange County Triangle Complex is still zero percent contained; 168 homes have been destroyed, including a building at a Brea Canyon Continuation High School. The fire continues to threaten Yorba Linda, Corona, Brea, Diamond Bar, Chino hills and Anaheim hills.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for affected counties Nov. 14.
Although the wildfires have claimed over one million acres throughout California in total and 20,000 in Southern California over the past four days alone, Irvine remains virtually unscathed by the fires. According to Professor Michael Kleinman, who works in the Department of Community and Environmental Medicine at UC Irvine, much of the debris created by the fires will not impact the city.
“We have been fortunate with respect to the direction of the wind so that the smoke impact has been more heavily felt in north Orange County,” Kleinman said.
However, according to Kleinman, this does not mean that Irvine will go completely untouched by the fires.
“The long-term weather forecast indicates that the winds will tend to be from the coast blowing inland for much of this week. That means that some of the pollution from the fires that has been transported over the ocean will be recycling through our area for the next day or so,” Kleinman said.
According to Kleinman, Irvine residents may be most affected by the California fires based on how long it takes to calm the flames. This in turn will determine the amount of particles that may hit Irvine and cause respiratory problems for those in the area.
Particle matter (PM) created by the fire should not affect Irvine residents for long, with debris drifting out of the area over the course of the week.
According to Kleinman, on the morning of Nov. 16 fine particles under the size of 2.5 micrometers were at higher levels than usual, creating unhealthy conditions in Anaheim and its surrounding areas.
In order to reduce the affects that Orange County resident may feel from increased PM counts, Kleinman gave a number of helpful suggestions.
“If possible, avoid unnecessary heavy exertion outdoors. This is especially important for people with heart diseases, asthma or other lung diseases,” Kleinman said.
Those most at risk from the air conditions created by the fires include children, the elderly and pregnant women. Respiratory tract problems are the most immediate danger physically caused by particles created from the fire. Still, Kleinman stated that a number of other health concerns could also be felt.
“Although the respiratory tract is a first target of PM, the health effects include increased risk of aggravation of existing heart disease. We have some evidence from animal studies that PM exposure can increase the level of inflammation in the brain. There is also a growing body of evidence that suggests that PM is also associated with poorer birth outcomes in women exposed shortly before and during pregnancy,” Kleinman said.
According to a statement released by the United States National Weather Service on Nov. 16, wind speed had fallen in areas such as northern Los Angeles, from 80 mph to 40 mph. As such, the fires will have less force behind them, making it tougher for flames to spread.