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Hazy Day Prods Residents Into Checking Out the Great Indoors

Enthusiasts curtail outdoor activities and schools keep students inside to avoid exposure to smoke and ash.

October 28, 2003|Jeff Gottlieb | Times Staff Writer

Jeff Rich has been riding his bike to work nearly every day for the last 10 years. Six miles to the office from his Anaheim Hills home and sometimes as many as 50 back, just for fun.

About all that would stop him was rain.

Until Monday.

Deciding his lungs could do without the smoke and ash the Southern California fires have thrown into the air, Rich left his Lemond Zurich in the garage and drove to work.

"I hate it," said Rich, 50, a financial advisor for Boeing Aircraft in Anaheim.

Rich was not alone in changing routine. After all, no one could hold their breath all day long. High school football teams eased up on practices. A high school water polo tournament was canceled. Preschools kept their pupils indoors.

"It's like the old days when we used to have the big smog alerts," said Craig Haugen, superintendent of the Anaheim Union High School District.

Doctors advised people to avoid vigorous activity because ash and smoke may cause irritation of the nose and eyes, sore throat and coughing.

Doctors at several Orange County hospitals said they were surprised they had not seen an increased number of patients with breathing problems. The exception was Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, the closest hospital to the 18,000 seniors living in Leisure World, where physicians reported a "significant increase" in the number of patients.

Those most affected have been patients with respiratory problems, such as emphysema, asthma, allergies and congestive heart failure, said Dr. Wesley Fields, an emergency room doctor at Saddleback. Those people should stay indoors, drink plenty of fluids and consult with their physicians about whether to increase their medicines, he said.

Meanwhile, schools were trying to keep things as normal as possible. At the Honey Bear Preschool in Villa Park, the kids were going to miss their trip to a Halloween-themed carnival at the Laguna Hills Mall.

"We're not going outside," said school owner Kaja Donikowski.

Besides the bad air, ashes dusted the play yard like fine snow. Donikowski cleared it off with a leaf blower before the kids arrived, but more ash accumulated through the day.

So she kept them inside, fearing the repercussions of children playing in the soot. "They would be black," she said.

To keep her charges occupied in the morning, when they usually would be outside, Donikowski resorted to a tactic she normally resists. She plugged "Rock-A-Doodle" into the VCR.

Canyon High in Anaheim Hills was taking precautions similar to those at many other high schools.

A tennis match scheduled for Monday against Villa Park High was postponed until Wednesday. The cross-country team didn't run. The football players were doing "walk-throughs," going over plays slowly, instead of pushing themselves during drills.

"We're not going to make you breathe heavily," said athletic director Steve Anderson. "We're not going to push to that level."

Servite High, a Catholic school in Anaheim, postponed a round of water polo matches scheduled for its 32-team water polo tournament when two high schools hosting games canceled all athletic activity, said Rob Ickes, Servite's athletic director.

People seemed to get the message about the bad air over the weekend. Charlie Irwin, president of the Orange County Wheelmen bike club, said that only four people showed up for Sunday's ride, down from the usual 50 to 70, the lowest number he's ever seen.

Still, some people remained undeterred. Irwin has seen people don surgical masks to ride their bikes.

"With the ash in the air, you don't want to be breathing that stuff in," he said. "If you're riding hard and gasping for air, you're just eating that smoke."

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