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Smoke From the Fire Rewrites School Rules

September 27, 2002|J. MICHAEL KENNEDY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Greg Plutko is looking for a new place for his football team to play its first home game tonight. His main requirement is that it be smoke-free.

Plutko is principal of Glendora High School, and the forest fire raging in the Angeles National Forest, just north of the city, has made it impossible to play a game there. The smoke is just too thick.

Ditto for the cross-country team, which moved its practice to Mount San Antonio College, about 10 miles south of the fires. Normally, students at the high school eat outdoors, but the gym has been opened to guard them against potential lung damage the smoke can cause.

The scene is much the same throughout the communities that hug the San Gabriel Mountains, from La Canada Flintridge to the west to well beyond San Bernardino in the east. The fire has created such a pall of smoke that it has disrupted lives in large and small ways.

The greatest impact, of course, is on those who have watched as the fire crept down the mountainside toward their homes. Several times during the week parents have called to say they are picking up their children from school so they can help evacuate their homes. "It's been a challenge," Plutko said.

It has also been a deterrent to the rhythm of everyday life, as people have made adjustments to keep from being harmed by the inhalation of smoke. As it has for the last several days, the South Coast Air Quality Management District issued another smoke alert Thursday advising against vigorous outdoor exercise such as running and cycling. City workers along the fire's front have been told to avoid heavy exertion.

"We're not going to have anybody digging today or have anybody fix irrigation lines where they have to do strenuous exercising," said Acquanetta Warren, operations manager for the Upland Public Works Department.

But primarily, schools have borne the brunt of the smoky skies. Martin Plourde, principal of Arcadia High, said he is constantly calling for air-quality updates so decisions can be made about upcoming events and activities.

Smoke was so evident Thursday morning, some sports activities were moved to the afternoon. "Like a lot of schools, we are looking at all the games we have scheduled," he said.

Others have been more directly affected. Goddard Middle School in Glendora was so close to the fire on Tuesday that several hundred people watched the burn from the campus. All the children have been eating lunch inside classrooms.

The school also wanted to show its appreciation to firefighters, who had a command post a half-mile away. On Wednesday, students delivered 1,000 bottles of soda and water to the firefighters.

"The kids are being outstanding," said Dominic DiGrazia, Goddard's principal. "They are being very adaptable and very flexible."

To the west, Barbara Vilmur, the health clerk at Mountain Avenue Elementary School in La Crescenta, has seen the smoke's effect on students.

"Some kids have said their eyes are burning," she said. "Some kids have been asking for their inhalers more."

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Times staff writers Susan Carpenter, Hilary MacGregor and Gayle Pollard-Terry contributed to this report.

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