TUSTIN, Calif — Firefighters in Southern California made major advances in containing the Silverado and Blue Ridge Fires yesterday, bringing containment of the blazes to 32% and 23%, respectively, by the end of the day — up from the single digits on Tuesday.
The fires, which have burned more than 27,700 acres mostly in Orange County, have not destroyed any homes, but have led to polluted air. On Monday, the South Coast Air Quality Management District rated air quality throughout Orange County as “hazardous.”
The polluted air has led to upticks in calls and requests for Covid-19 tests by patients at community health centers in the area, according to Izabella Sahakian, operations manager at Families Together, which runs two nonprofit health centers in Orange County. The clinic’s Tustin location is about seven miles away from the edge of the Silverado Fire.
“Patients are calling because they’re having a hard time breathing. They can’t tell if its anxiety, they’re getting shortness of breath, they’re getting a cough, they’re panicking. So, we’ve been doing a lot of telehealth visits with our providers,” Sahakian told Direct Relief.
“Covid complicates things by patients panicking because they can’t tell the difference when they’re getting shortness of breath: is it the forest fire or is it Covid or is it respiratory infection?” she said.
Sahakian said patients have also been calling to seek refills of medication, which the clinic is helping to fill. The staff is maintaining operations while several staff members are out of the office, as they have either been evacuated or are helping relatives look after their homes. “Everyone is helping answer phones,” Sahakian said. “We’re doing the best we can.”
Families Together is further supporting their community by setting up their mobile units at local evacuation shelters and homeless shelters to offer clinical services and flu shots as well as to distribute items such as children’s medications, over the counter medications, personal hygiene kits, pulse oximeters, and masks that were delivered by Direct Relief’s Emergency Response Team yesterday. The team also delivered a donated generator which will help power the mobile units.
Should the clinic lose power in the future, the generator can also help preserve vaccines and medications that need to be cooled as well as maintain computer access to medical records.
Though winds had blown the worst of the smoke away from the clinic and its neighborhood on Wednesday, leading to blue skies, small pieces of white ash continued to fall and the air quality was rated as “unhealthy for sensitive groups” by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
On Tuesday, Direct Relief delivered requested supplies to Lestonnac Free Clinic in the City of Orange, which only serves uninsured patients. The clinic is based about eight miles away from the Silverado Fire. Included in the delivery was a remote video and audio interface that will allow the clinic’s 300 volunteer doctors to treat patients across the state.
“We’re able to provide all the different doctors you can imagine at a location that needs the help,” said Edward Gerber, executive director of the clinic. Gerber said he hoped to add this remote capability prior to the pandemic, due to long-standing challenges of getting specialists doctors to more remote parts of the state, especially during a crisis.
These latest round of wildfires mark a continuation of a year that has seen record-setting blazes across the state, which have killed at least 30 people. The fires this years have burned over 4 million acres destroyed over 10,000 structures, according to Cal Fire.