Air quality concerns shut down campuses for remainder of the week

Rodrigo Azurmendi, Tyler Cole, and Aaron Stein-Chester

On Thursday morning, Saddleback, IVC, and ATEP decided to cancel classes for the rest of the week citing “extremely poor air quality” conditions due to the wildfires blazing through Camp Pendleton and areas in San Diego County.

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The Santiago Fire

District chancellor Raghu Mathur and the presidents of the three schools made the call, which went into effect at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 25.

Both schools first imposed a soft close on Oct. 24, resulting in the cancellation of all classes. Offices remained open while faculty reserved the right to stay at the campus.

Later that afternoon, Saddleback’s evacuation became mandatory. San Diego Gas and Electric cut much of campus off the power grid in order to divert energy resources to firefighting efforts in San Diego and South Orange County.

“We cancelled class because of ash falling and thick air. We have had numerous health complaints,” said Saddleback College President Richard McCullough. “We put the student’s health and safety first. We have to consider them getting to and from school as well as on campus.”

At Saddleback, students suffered through currents of smoky air while attending their classes, Red Ribbon Week, or visiting Transfer Day stands.

“I have a very bad headache,” Negin Makri, 43, general education. “It’s very hard to breathe. I wonder why they haven’t shut down classes since they did on Monday and the air is much worse today.”

At the National University stand, representative Shirley Wu stood talking with a surgical mask on. Ash covered her table as well as most of the walkway near the library.

“It’s not a good idea to be outdoors,” Wu said. “I have allergies and there’s other reps packing up early and leaving. I had a student sneeze black stuff.”

The unhealthy conditions had a noticeable affect on students.

“I don’t like this at all,” Christine Chao, 18, anthropology, who was also wearing a face mask. “The fact that Transfer Day is outside is horrible. I wish it could have been moved.”

Throughout the morning classes were being cancelled or shortened.

“I had my class this morning cancelled,” Chao said. “[Also] my friends’ classes were cut short. They let out the students early.”

At IVC, things weren’t much different. “I’m very glad they cancelled class,” said Elias Kazimi, 23, Architecture. “I went to my history class this morning and my teacher thought we shouldn’t be in class because of the weather.”

The administration kept their attention on the weather throughout the morning, and it appeared safe enough for students to attend classes.

“We started this morning and it was much colder,” said IVC President Glenn Roquemore. “We wanted to see if the temperature was going to change the wind direction. Around 11 a.m., things seemed to be clearing out for us.”

The administration began to notice that conditions were becoming unhealthy and began taking action to cope.

“All of a sudden, the wind stopped and the smoke laid back down on us again,” Roquemore said. “Students and staff were starting to have [visible] effects, particularly in their eyes and throat. We tried cranking up the AC a little bit and we went out and got more masks for people that wanted. We finally decided that the smoke was just too thick.”

Jeff Kaufmann, a biology instructor at IVC, explained what caused the air quality to change.

“We’re getting a modest amount of marine air coming in, which is more humid,” Kaufmann said. “The air in Irvine basin is hot and full of smoke. What’s sitting on top of it is heavier cold layer.”

This is known as an inversion, which occurs when a layer of warmer, less dense air passes over a heavier, cooler patch. Typically, it causes smog to gather. In this case, however, it was smoke from the Santiago Canyon fire. “When I drove in from Long Beach today I could see this very disturbing brown dome of noxious smoke sitting right over the city,” Kaufman said.

Classes at both campuses are scheduled to resume Monday Oct. 29, unless otherwise notified.

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