While a debris fire continues to burn in Thermal, Riverside County health officials say the smoke emanating from the blaze is not hazardous and students at nearby Coachella Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) schools can return to class indoors.

Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stressed that there is no evidence the fire is burning dangerous or toxic material. An EPA survey did not detect any toxic chemicals in the air in the school.

As a result of this information from the EPA, CVUSD schools will reopen on Friday, Oct. 25.  Schools will continue to follow inclement weather protocols as needed. Employees will return to work on Thursday, Oct. 24 to prepare for the return of students on Friday.

“We thank our community for their patience and support this past week as we deal with the fires,” said Dr. Maria Gandera, Superintendent of CVUSD Schools. “Every day, we have received up to date information from various agencies to guide our decision about schools for the next day.”

Until the fire at the Sun Valley Recycling center is extinguished, Riverside County health officials are advising Coachella Valley Unified School District officials to limit outdoor activities due to periodic increases in smoke.

Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County public health officer, said returning students should avoid any vigorous outdoor or indoor exertion and stay indoors when possible, preferably in an air-conditioned building that limits intake of outdoor air.

“By limiting outdoor activities, students should be able to return to school safely,” said Kaiser, who last week issued a smoke advisory for portions of the Coachella Valley. “We will continue to monitor the weather and smoke, because our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of the students and residents in the area.”

Kaiser said he is monitoring reports from the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), which has been taking samples from the area near the fire. AQMD also issued its own smoke advisories since the fire broke out.

AQMD Board Member and Riverside County Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel Perez thanked the AQMD for bringing air monitors to the school complex and the EPA for testing the air.

CVUSD Schools to Resume Classes on Friday

Supervisor V. Manuel Perez

“Both EPA and AQMD have tested the air, and have not detected toxic or hazardous material in the atmosphere,” Supervisor V. Manuel Perez said in a prepared statement. “The data show that the public is safe. AQMD is going to continue sending advisories, twice a day in the morning and evening, to give us regular updates on the air quality at the school site.”

The fire, which continues to smolder, was sending up a column of black smoke that could be seen throughout the region. Several students at nearby CVUSD schools were transported to a local hospital after complaining of respiratory issues last week.

The debris fire is burning near the intersection of Avenue 66 and Martinez Road in the community of Thermal in the Coachella Valley. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs Wildland Fire Management is the lead fire agency responding to the incident. For fire-specific updates, contact Chief Ray Ruiz at the Bureau of Indian Affairs at (951) 675‑6763.

Image Sources

  • Supervisor V. Manuel Perez: Supervisor V. Manuel Perez
  • Back in Class: Image by Ernesto Eslava from Pixabay