The wildfires raging through California have burned down houses, fields and forests, and killed at least one person – but even those miles from the terrifying flames have been affected.
Hospitals across Southern California have been inundated with patients as young as five suffering from breathing problems as the week-long fires fill the air with choking smoke and floating ash.
Smoke also played a part in the death of an elderly woman, who is the first – and so far only – victim of the five-day-long crisis, the LA Times reported Friday.
Locals in Southern California are suffering from breathing problems after the massive wildfires caused vast areas of the state to be blanketed by dangerous smoke. Pictured: A fire in Los Padres National Forest
The fire has also claimed its first life, officials said. A 70-year-old woman died after she crashed her car fleeing the Thomas Fire (pictured) in Ventura on Wednesday. She died of head trauma, inhaling smoke, and thermal injuries, officials said
The smoke contains pm2.5 particulate matter – which is so small it can get into the bloodstream, and even affect people when no smoke can be seen or smelled. Special masks are needed; covering up mouths or noses with clothing will do nothing
Dramatic scenes like this are dangerous, of course, but so is the smoke in areas not directly affected by the fire. Anyone in affected areas is recommended to stay indoors if possible
The Thomas Fire (pictured) is just 10 per cent controlled – and it is by far the biggest, covering more than 143,000 acres. It’s also continuing to spread, although Thursday’s high winds have eased off, making firefighting easier
These are the seven fires; clockwise from top-right: The Thomas Fire; the Rye Fire; the Creek Fire; the Wilson Fire; the Liberty Fire; the Lilac Fire and the Skirball Fire
Virginia Pesola, 70, of Santa Paula, was found dead in a car in Ventura on Wednesday; officials said she had been fleeing the Thomas Fire – the oldest and biggest of the blazes – when she died.
HOW TO PROTECT AGAINST SMOKE
The danger facing many Californians is not the thick, black smoke associated with blazes, but the tiny, invisible particles that come with it.
These pm2.5 particles – so called because they’re 2.5 microns wide – are small enough to enter bloodstream.
As well as causing breathing problems, large number of pm2.5 particles in the blood forces the heard to beat harder, potentially triggering heart attacks.
Avoiding outdoor activity and staying indoors as much as possible – with all windows shut, of course – can help.
So can buying an air filtering machine, or using AC that recirculates interior air rather that drawing from outside.
But pm2.5 particles are small enough to enter homes even with doors and windows shut, albeit in lower numbers than outside.
So the best solution is to get a mask.
However, surgeon masks and covering one’s face with clothing will not work.
Instead, N95 masks – so called because they filter out 95% of particulate matter – are needed.
These are the masks used by builders and other industrial professionals.
But they are also produced for the home market. Some are designed to be used and thrown away; others have replaceable filters.
N95 masks like the one held by this woman will protect from smoke particles; surgeon masks like the one she is wearing will not
She was involved in a crash along an evacuation route, and had been reported missing, but it was only on Friday that her death, and its connection to the fires, was made public.
A Ventura county medical examiner said that Pesola had died of a combination of blunt force trauma with terminal smoke inhalation and thermal injuries.
Although smoke was not the sole contributor to her death, it has been a severe problem for many in Southern California, with hospitals across the state admitting people affected by the blaze.
Even people in areas with no visible smoke can be affected, as the real concern is the tiny, invisible pm2.5 particles, which are small enough to get into the bloodstream.
Not only can they cause trouble for people with lung problems like asthma or emphysema, they can also trigger heart attacks in people who are susceptible.
Air quality rating site AirNow showed affected areas to be as high as 151 on Friday night; anything over 100 is considered unhealthy. Some locations in Ventura Country were as high as 331 on Friday.
That’s put a huge strain on area hospitals, who must now accommodate those affected by the low-lying choking clouds. Even staying indoors does not necessarily substantially reduce the pm2.5 count.
Patents as young as five have been submitted with breathing problems, while asthma attacks are on the rise. The San Fernando Valley is also suffering from poor air quality caused by the fires, officials say.
Health officials are advising everyone to stay indoors as much as possible, even when smoke cannot be seen or smelled, as the pm2.5 particles are so small that they can be imperceptible without proper equipment.
Outdoor activity, particularly exercise or anything that causes heavy breathing, should be limited, and if possible air filters or AC that recirculates inside air should be used.
Masks can also protect against the smoke – but they need to be N95 masks, which means that they filter out 95 per cent of particulate matter. Surgeons’ masks and covering mouths with clothing will do nothing.
The demand for masks that can protect against the smoke is so great that 100 people were seen lining up outside a mall in Carpinteria, Santa Barbera, to collect free masks, the LA Times reported.
Also on Friday, President Donald Trump declared an emergency at the request of California Governor Jerry Brown.
He ordered additional federal aid which is helping federal agencies to coordinate their relief efforts.
Evacuation orders have also been lifted for some Ventura, Santa Paula and San Diego County residents, allowing them to return home. So far more than 212,000 people have been displaced by the fires.
However, the fires remain largely uncontrolled, and the largest of them – the Thomas Fire in Ventura – continues to spread, with just 10 per cent controlled by fire crews.
The Lilac Fire (damage from it pictured) is one of the newest blazes, and has covered 4,100 acres since it began on Thursday. So far the fires have caused more han 212,00
Jeff Rodriquez, left, and his son Casey help a friend move belongings after the Thomas Fire destroyed most of the apartment building on North Kalarama in Ventura
The view of the Thomas Fire from Fillmore. Even in areas where no smoke is visible, pm2.5 particles can still affect the air quality and trigger problems in susceptible people
An aircraft drops fire retardant on the Thomas Fire outside Fillmore. The Thomas fire is the oldest of the blazes, having begun on Monday
A military aircraft drops fire retardant on the Thomas Fire. Thursday’s heavy winds eased up, allowing firefighting techniquest like this to be used, but they are expected to continue, peaking on Sunday
As of Friday evening, seven fires were still active: the Thomas Fire in Ventura, the Rye Fire near Santa Clarita; the Creek Fire near Sylmar; the Wilson Fire near the Mt. Wilson Observatory; the Skirball Fire that burned Bel Air; the Liberty Fire outside Murietta; and the The Lilac Fire, in San Diego County’s Pala Mesa area.
Of those, the Thomas Fire remains the largest and most dangerous, covering 132,000 acres and being just 10 per cent contained after five days of burning.
But things got slightly easier for the 8,700 firefighters hard at work on the blazes when the weather – which had previously been especially dangerous due to powerful Santa Ana winds – eased up.
‘The weather moderated today and the milder winds allowed for an increase in the number of both helicopters and air tankers that could safely complete mission dropping water and fire retardant, as well as conducting reconnaissance tasks,’ the Ventura County Fire Department said on its website Friday evening.
A joint weather forecast by firefighting agencies said that winds were expected to continue, peaking in strength on Sunday then becoming much lighter on Monday. ‘Ongoing fires may see significant growth on Sunday,’ it said.
Temperatures would remain “well above normal for the foreseeable future,’ it added.
North of San Diego, the Lilac Fire swelled from 10 acres to 4,100 acres in a few hours on Thursday, prompting Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency for San Diego County. The fire destroyed 65 structures.
Dick Marsala looks through debris from his destroyed home after a wildfire roared through the Rancho Monserate Country Club Friday in Bonsall
Fire crews search for hot spots among destroyed homes in the Rancho Monserate Country Club community on Friday
A general view shows dozens of mobile homes consumed by the Lilac wildfire in Fallbrook
A statue sits among destroyed homes in the Rancho Monserate Country Club community on Friday
Fire ravaged vehicles remain parked in front of burnt out homes off Highway 33 north of Ojai, which was surrounded by the ever-growing fires
This is the extraordinary view of the Southern California wildfires afforded by the International Space Station. The five massive blazes have scoured hundreds of square miles of the state, and forced 200,000 people from their homes
This photo of the Thomas fire was taken on Tuesday, and then colorized and released by NASA on Thursday. The brown area has been burned by the Thomas Fire; the green area is undamaged, and the grey areas are built up.
This photo was posted on Twitter by astronaut Randy Bresnik, who wrote: ‘I was asked this evening if we can see the SoCal fires from space. Yes Faith, unfortunately we can. May the Santa Ana [winds] die down soon’
Fallbrook, known for its avocado orchards, burned, and homes were destroyed in its Rancho Monserate Country Club retirement community. Blazes approached the Camp Pendleton marine base.
Although only one person has died in the blazes so far, animals have not been as lucky; at least 54 horses have died as fires swept through stables in rural areas too quickly for the animals to be freed.
On Thursday at least 25 horses were killed and three people injured at the San Luis Rey training center in Bonsall, San Diego County, when a fire ripped through stables.
A trainer suffered second- and third-degree burns over half her body trying to rescue horses; she was airlifted to a San Diego hospital and placed in a medically induced coma.
And two days previously, 29 horses died at Rancho Padilla near Sylmar after the Creek fire moved in too fast for the owners to free the animals.
The fires have also caused chaos for film crews making commercials, TV shows and even student films. Earlier this week HBO and CBS paused production on Westworld and SWAT, respectively, over safety concerns. Fox comedy LA to Vegas also had to postpone shooting.
‘Everyone is usually rushing to complete production ahead of the holidays,’ said Phil Sokoloski, a spokesman for Film LA. ‘This may put some additional time pressure to finish their work before the holiday season.’
And on Wednesday the LAPD suspended permitted filming in zones near the fires as well as other areas deemed to be at severe risk of burning. Applications for filming in the Angeles National Forest were also halted this week.
California is still recovering from wildfires in the northern part of the state that resulted in insured losses of more than $9 billion in October. Those fires, which were concentrated in California’s wine country, killed 43 people.
Terrified horses – many of which are thoroughbred race horses – gallop from San Luis Rey Downs as the Lilac Fire sweeps through the horse-training facility on Thursday
The fires reached San Diego County on Thursday, with the Lilac Fire tearing through retirement homes and ranches in Bonsall as it crept toward Oceanside
Shelby Hope walks through the remains of the Padilla Ranch near Sylmar, which was ravaged by the Creek Fire, on Wednesday. The ranch owners were forced to flee for their lives, and were unable to free their horses – 29 of which perished
Horses lie in burned-out stables after the Creek Fire swept through the Padilla Ranch. Prior to the fire, the owners had 60 horses, 31 of which survive