Heavy wildfire smoke blows into Southern California amid air quality advisory

Heavy smoke from wildfires raging in Central California has pushed south, triggering an air quality advisory for some Southern California mountain areas, and conditions are ripe for more toxic plumes later in the week.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued the special advisory in anticipation of elevated Air Quality Index levels — a measurement of air pollution — in parts of the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains Monday.

Smoke from the Windy and KNP Complex fires — a pair of explosive blazes in the southern Sierra Nevada region — turned skies in Los Angeles eerie shades of gray and orange in recent days and continues to sully atmospheric conditions more than 100 miles away.

“It’s not necessarily been blown down in the areas where we breathe — it’s still high in the atmosphere — but … the forecast shows that we would get some areas that are unhealthy for sensitive groups or maybe even higher levels,” including high desert regions, said Sarah Rees, deputy executive officer for planning and rules at South Coast AQMD.

Air quality on Monday morning was good to moderate throughout the region, but high-elevation areas could worsen later in the day.

“I’m more concerned about the afternoon period,” Rees said, adding that peak readings would probably occur after 2 p.m.

North and northeast winds that have pushed the smoke into Southern California are expected to return on Wednesday and Thursday, along with high temperatures and low humidity — conditions that increase fire danger, weather officials said.

“That would certainly be a favorable direction to import smoke from the Windy fire,” which is burning to the north in the Tule River Indian Reservation and Sequoia National Forest, said David Sweet, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Oxnard station.

Since igniting during a lightning storm Sept. 9, the Windy fire has surged to 85,383 acres, burning into the Giant Sequoia National Monument, and is only 2% contained. As the blaze grows unabated, the flames are threatening roughly 2,000 homes. On Monday morning, authorities issued a new evacuation warning for the M99 corridor along the Kern River.

Not far away, the KNP Complex fire in Sequoia National Park has torn through the famed Giant Forest grove of towering sequoia trees in its march through rugged terrain. Comprised of two lightning-sparked fires that began Sept. 9 during the same storms that sparked the Windy fire, the KNP has seared 46,976 acres and is 8% contained.

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