Air quality in Santa Barbara County has improved, leading to the air quality advisory put in place Tuesday by the County Public Health Department being lifted. There is still smoke in the area from fires burning in Southern California, and lingering ash and soot from Saturday’s high winds blowing ash from last summer’s Zaca Fire into the South Coast, but levels are lower than previous days. Residents sensitive to the conditions should still proceed with caution when outside.
Wind gusts reaching 75 miles per hour, a precursor to the Santa Ana winds which followed, pushed ash settled from the county’s backcountry – a result of this summer’s Zaca Fire – into the South Coast, making a walk downtown uncomfortable for residents, and dirtying anything sitting outside Saturday. Many club and bar bouncers wore sunglasses to shield their eyes from the blowing ash, while pedestrians attempted to shield their noses, eyes and mouth from the soot.
The ash was significantly cleaned up by Sunday, and even more so on Monday, said Tom Murphy, a division manager at the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution District, but then the smoke from the fires down south began to further impact the air quality along the South Coast. The settled ash is also continuously stirred up every morning when vehicles begin driving around the city, resulting in a resuspension of the dust along the South Coast.
Because of this resuspension, the county’s Public Health Department on Tuesday upgraded the health advisory it had been distributing daily since Saturday, explaining that conditions had worsened and warning people to stay inside. Despite this, Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital hadn’t seen an influx in neither calls nor visits to the hospital related to the impact of the ash, soot and smoke, according to a spokesperson. Barbara Keyani, a spokesperson for the Santa Barbara School District, said district officials asked school principals to use their best judgment in allowing outdoor activities to continue. Tuesday, a water polo match at San Marcos High and a tennis match between Santa Barbara and Dos Pueblos High Schools were both cancelled because of the air quality. Keyani wasn’t aware of any increase in school nurse visits at the beginning of the week either.