BARSTOW Forest fires in the Angeles National Forest are creating health concerns for Barstow area residents.

The Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory for the Barstow, Victor Valley and 29 Palms area Monday. Violette Roberts, the district's community relations manager, said the advisory will be in effect until the fires subside or wind conditions change. She recommended that people should try to remain inside and avoid strenuous activity during the advisory. She also said that pregnant women, children, older adults and people with lung or heart diseases are the most at risk. A report from the district warned that sore eyes, ears, throat and nose as well as difficulty breathing and pain can be symptoms of smoke exposure.

Roberts said the district has measured high levels of particulate matter in the air in Barstow, but that the Environmental Protection Agency reviews the exact results before they are released to the public. The district is checking the particulate filters throughout the day because of the fires, according to Roberts.

"Your eyes and your nose are your best tools to determine if it's a good idea to go outside," Roberts said. "If you smell or see smoke then you are in an area that is being affected by the fires and shouldn't inhale too much of the air if possible."

The air conditions affected student extracurricular activities in both school districts. In the Silver Valley Unified School District, which resumed classes Aug. 6, volleyball and cross country practices at Silver Valley High School were canceled, according to Principal Cameron Smart. During the lunch period, school officials opened up the gymnasium so that students who frequently eat and socialize outside could avoid the elements.

"We're trying to keep the kids indoors as much as we can," said Smart.

Barstow Unified School District begins classes on Sept. 8, but some students are already on campus preparing for the school year and being affected by the smoke. Both Barstow High School football practice and Barstow Junior High School band camp moved indoors.

At Fort Irwin, spokesman John Wagstaffe said that training continued as usual with soldiers completing their two-mile run Monday morning. Smoky air and ashes were significantly less noticeable out on post than compared to Barstow, he said. Wagstaffe noted that he did see about five workers wearing face masks on the fort.

City and Barstow Community Hospital spokesman John Rader said the smoke advisory hasn't affected city workers and that the hospital hasn't treated anyone for smoke related injuries or illnesses.

Staff writer Eunice Lee contributed to this report.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4126 or dheldreth@desertdispatch.com

Tips for protecting yourself from smoke

Stay indoors: Limit exposure to unhealthy air by staying indoors, and keeping doors and windows closed. Use air conditioning and set it to recirculate mode if available.

Reduce outdoor activity: Avoid prolonged physical activity outdoors including working, exercising or recreation.

Consult a physician: If you or a family member suffer from a heart or lung illness talk to your doctor about special precautions and treatments that will minimize the impacts of the smoke.

Source: Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District report