Monday, December 10, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 40

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on December 13th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 41 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 41

Smoke from wildfires spurs school closures


The particles of drifting smoke and ash from the Thomas Fire did more than ominously rain down from the sky and pile up on cars on Dec. 10 and in the days following—it caused air quality so poor that schools across Santa Barbara County closed mid-December and local fire departments distributed free N-95 facemasks to residents.

Kenny Klein, a spokesperson for several of Santa Maria's school districts, announced in an email on Dec. 10 that all schools within the Santa Maria Joint Union High School, Santa Maria-Bonita, Orcutt Union, and Guadalupe Union school districts would be closed on Dec. 11 due to unhealthy air quality conditions in the area.

All students and staff were advised to stay home until the following day, when schools within the districts in and closely surrounding Santa Maria were reopened.

"Our goal is to always provide a safe learning environment for our students," Mark Richardson, superintendent of the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District said in a statement. "Based on projections from the state Air Resources and the county air quality boards we felt that it safe to resume classes [on Dec. 12]."

Richardson added that he had never in his career canceled school because of smoke and ash drifting from a fire 70 miles away.

As students in Santa Maria returned to school on Dec. 12, the Lompoc Unified School District closed its doors, also citing unsafe air quality. A statement posted to the district's website instructed all students and employees to stay home, and a secretary answering phone calls to the district's main line said she was the only person in the district at work.

"I've really been getting a lot of calls from parents who are just wondering what's going on," she said, adding that many parents don't speak English.

Cultural outreach became a topic of conversation during the county Board of Supervisors meeting on Dec. 12, when 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann requested better outreach to the Spanish speaking community, especially parents and laborers, during school cancellations and air quality warnings.

Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf asked how parents could keep their children safe in areas with poor air quality while schools are closed. Charity Dean, a physician health officer at the Santa Barbara Public Health Department, said the poor air quality will impact children more severely because they are smaller, so she suggested parents take their kids on a short day trip outside the dangerous areas and into clean air.

Parents without that opportunity, she said, should ensure their children are inside.

Dean said children and their parents can also wear N-95 facemasks, which help filter harmful particles found in smoke and ash. The masks, according to a Santa Maria city press release, were being distributed by the Santa Maria Fire Department for free at five fire station locations on Dec. 12. The county was distributing masks at locations in Santa Barbara, Goleta, Lompoc, and Buellton as well.

Information about free mask distribution sites is available at To find out the status of air quality in Santa Barbara County, visit

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