Friday, October 19

Students feel the heat of wildfires in Southern California

A firefighting helicopter drops flame retardant on a 5,200 acre fire burning above the cities of Duarte and Azusa. (Courtesy of Oscar Cortez)

A firefighting helicopter drops flame retardant on a 5,200 acre fire burning above the cities of Duarte and Azusa. (Courtesy of Oscar Cortez)


Sonia Puri’s family packed valuables in their car Tuesday night as fires scorched the hills near their home, so they would be able to flee at a moment’s notice.

Puri, a rising fourth-year biology student, said she and her family live one block away from a mandatory evacuation zone but decided to stay put. Wildfires are common in her area, but the San Gabriel Complex fire is much closer to her home than any other fire she can remember, she said.

“We had been watching the fire closely, hoping that we wouldn’t have to leave,” Puri said. “We kept hoping the winds wouldn’t change directions and that the homes would remain safe.”

The San Gabriel Complex fire, a pair of wildfires currently burning in the Angeles National Forest in California, started June 20 in the mountains near Azusa and Duarte. The fires spread rapidly through the forest because of a recent record-breaking heatwave, during which temperatures rose to more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

As of Thursday, the fire has burned about 5,200 acres, according to the Los Angeles Times. More than 850 homes close to the fires evacuated June 20.

However, as of Sunday most evacuation orders have been lifted.

Some UCLA students who live in the affected area went about their routines, but avoided spending time outdoors to stay away from smoke and ash.

Gabriel Ortiz, who lives about three miles from the fire, said he thinks people are most concerned about the harmful effects of smoke, which has blanketed most of the valley.

“A lot of the homes in the area don’t have air conditioning like my own,” said the rising third-year political science and international development studies student.

Ortiz also said his family avoided walking outside to get away from smoke, but added the wind had blown ash away towards San Bernardino.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory Friday, designating the air quality of areas affected by smoke unhealthy.

Laura Cortez, a rising fourth-year nursing student who lives in Duarte, said her family avoided the smoke and ash by staying indoors.

Because of the smoke, the city of Duarte closed many recreational areas, including the city pool and many parks, she said.

Though her family does not live within the mandatory evacuation zone, Cortez said she was worried because only a small portion of the fire was contained Tuesday night and could still spread.

Firefighters contained almost half of the fire by Friday, though the heat wave prevented any significant containment before Wednesday. Cooler weather has helped firefighting efforts, but triple-digit temperatures and dry wind this weekend may worsen the fire, according to the National Weather Service.

Cortez added she returned home from her apartment in Westwood on Friday, but the trip took longer because she had to navigate around evacuation zones.

“Major parts of the city have been shut down,” she said. “We have been told to avoid certain areas beyond a certain point.”

Firefighters also battled other fires across Southern California. A 30,000 acre fire burning in Kern County near Bakersfield is only five percent contained. A fire in Santa Barbara burned almost 7,400 acres but is almost 100 percent contained. Another fire in San Diego County burned 7,600 acres and is about 75 percent contained.




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