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West Coast Wildfires Disrupt Life Even In Areas Far From Flames

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Fires burning up and down the west coast are causing poor air quality and choking some communities. NPR's Adrian Florido reports from a neighborhood here in Los Angeles that has been covered in ash and smoke.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Every day on a street corner in LA's Boyle Heights, Arnulfo Ramirez (ph) sets up a little table with cellphone accessories. He sits next to his radio waiting for customers. But last week, when the Bobcat Fire burning two hours from here started raining ash on these streets, Ramirez packed up.

ARNULFO RAMIREZ: (Non-English language spoken).

FLORIDO: "It stings your eyes," he said. "It's unbearable." He didn't work for three days. Though, he said he probably wouldn't have sold much anyway. He came back out once things started clearing up a little. A few steps away, Martina Lopez (ph) sells used shoes that she displays on a blanket laid out on the sidewalk.

MARTINA LOPEZ: (Non-English language spoken).

FLORIDO: "You come out hoping to earn a few cents," she said. "But the fires, the heat and the pandemic, they're keeping people inside, so it's tough."

LOPEZ: (Non-English language spoken).

FLORIDO: It's not just street vendors muddling through these hazards in the air. Parents have scrambled to protect their children from asthma attacks. On Thursday night, Elsa Morales' (ph) 6-year-old son started coughing in his sleep. She kept the windows closed. But as the fire worsened over the weekend, so did his symptoms.

ELSA MORALES: The coughing starts becoming more constant. Then he starts complaining of chest pain. And then he starts wheezing.

FLORIDO: She spent recent days dusting with a wet cloth. Her family takes off their top layer of clothes before coming inside. She ordered air purifiers online, just one at first for her son's bedroom. When a day later she went online to order two more for the rest of the house, demand was surging.

MORALES: The prices went up. And most of the cheaper ones were sold out.

FLORIDO: Ruchi Seth is a pediatrician at LA's St. John's Well Child and Family Center. She tells parents to do exactly the sorts of things Elsa Morales is doing. And she said that despite the fires, she isn't seeing the huge exacerbation in asthma symptoms you might expect.

RUCHI SETH: The one factor this year may be that a lot of kids are staying home. They're all engaging in distanced learning right now.

FLORIDO: Because of the pandemic. But that's also changed how her clinic intakes patients. Those who show up coughing and wheezing are first redirected to a tent outside to make sure it's not the coronavirus.

Adrian Florido, NPR News, Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUILTY GHOSTS' "GREAT MALEVOLENT WITHHOLDER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.