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Schools Cancel Classes, Outdoor Activities Curtailed as Smokey Skies Persist in Santa Monica


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

December 7, 2017 -- Local public schools canceled classes, and outdoor activities, including downtown's popular holiday ice-skating rink, were out of commission Wednesday as the seaside city's populace struggled a second day under a choking plume of smoke and ash from fires raging throughout Southern California.

Santa Monica College (SMC) said it closed its campus at noon, having sent out notice that morning of its intent to do so.

By Wednesday evening, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) had decided to close all schools on Thursday, too, as well as its preschools and after-school programs.

School Superintendent Ben Drati said the closures were being instituted out of “an abundance of caution and with the health and safety of our students and staff in mind.”

“We are concerned about staff and families as this smoke, air quality and fire threat may turn very quickly throughout the day,” he said.

Like other closings in the city on Wednesday, the two decisions were a reaction to air-quality hazards posed by the “Skirball” fire, which erupted about 5 a.m. Wednesday in the Sepulveda Pass area of Los Angeles, consuming 475-acres, destroying at least four homes and damaging 11 other structures.

Adding to the chaos was the mandatory evacuation of at least 700 homes and an elementary school, and the temporary closure at the scene of all lanes of the 405 Freeway.

By mid-afternoon, the fire, near both the Getty Center and UCLA was five percent contained. The besieged Los Angeles Unified Schools District announced at least 265 of its public schools near communities hit by fires would remain closed through the school week.

Skirball is the latest of a rapid-fire succession of blazes that started Monday and are associated with high and dry Santa Ana winds.

The multitude of wildfires span Riverside County to Los Angeles and into Ventura County, and are also generating enormous wind-driven plumes of unhealthful smoke and ash coast bound.

Due to the Skirball fire, authorities in Santa Monica continued the smoke advisory first issued Tuesday, after a dawn wildfire near Sylmar sent an eerie grey cloud to the city, and schools and the populace in general scurried to take cover indoors.

“Air quality is poor according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District due to the brush fires,” the alert said.

“Residents and those visiting Santa Monica are advised to reduce outdoor and physical activity," it said. "Winds are expected to continue today and tomorrow."

Drati said the district has not decided yet whether to remain closed on Friday as well.

The decision to close Wednesday and Thursday was “not made randomly,” he said. It involved such factors as continued unhealthy air quality, high winds predicted to reach gusts of 80 mph gusts and an “extremely high wildfire threat.”

In all, the conditions warranted a danger level of purple –- one never used before.

“The purple danger color means there is extreme danger and that fires that erupt will burn uncontrollably,” said Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

He called the fierce Santa Ana wind conditions of the last few days “the worst the state has ever seen.”

By later Wednesday, the northbound I-405 lanes had reopened at the I-10, connector ramps from I-10 to I-405 were also opened, but two right lanes remained closed at Getty Center Drive.

Meanwhile, a Wind Advisory and Red Flag Warning remained in effect on Wednesday as well.

“Extended periods of moderate to strong Santa Ana winds are anticipated through Friday,” a release from the City of Santa Monica said.

Gusty, damaging winds were anticipated for Wednesday night and into Thursday throughout beach, valley, and mountain communities, City spokesperson Constance Farrell said.

“There is a potential for downed trees, powerlines and power outages,” she said.


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