Air quality plummets as Holy Fire rages on in Orange and Riverside counties

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Residents of the East San Gabriel Valley woke up Thursday to a thin layer of ash covering cars and sidewalks, thanks to the Holy Fire raging in the Cleveland National Forest in Riverside and Orange counties.

The Holy Fire has burned nearly 10,000 acres of land as of Thursday evening and caused an air quality crisis in Southern California.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory through Friday in Orange County and portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. According to AirNow’s Air Quality Index, areas of the east and south San Gabriel Valley and Pomona/Walnut Valley have unhealthy levels of air pollution, due to the high amount of ash particles from the Holy Fire. Even healthy adults are being asked to avoid outdoor exercise.

“If you can smell smoke, you’re breathing smoke,” Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District officials said Tuesday. “When smoke is present, residents should avoid excessive outdoor exercise or activity. Children, seniors, people with heart or lung disease and physically active adults are at greatest risk during poor air-quality events.”

In Riverside County, schools closed on Thursday for the week, with Perris Union High School District and Menifee Unified School District canceling classes due to air quality concerns. District functions, such as Back to School Nights, were also pushed back.

Crews continued aerial and ground firefighting efforts Wednesday, with 16 air tankers, 10 helicopters and additional fixed-wing aircraft assisting ground crews that were working to build bulldozer lines, authorities said. An estimated 700 firefighters were battling the blaze. Steep terrain has also made it difficult for fire engines to attack the blaze, officials said.

“This is a monster,” Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer said. “Who would go out with low humidity and high winds and the highest heat temperatures this time of the year and intentionally set the forest on fire?”

The answer is Holy Jim Canyon resident Forrest Gordon Clark, Orange County prosecutors allege. Clark, who was arrested Wednesday, was charged with aggravated arson damaging at least five inhabited structures, arson of inhabited property, arson of forest and criminal threats, all felonies.

Orange County Fire Authority Battalion Chief Shane Sherwood said Wednesday that the blaze started around Clark’s cabin in Holy Jim Canyon, and that physical evidence was being compiled.

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