Mulch fire smoke prompts evacuations at Coachella Valley schools; 14 students hospitalized

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THERMAL (CNS) – Fourteen students from Desert Mirage High School in the eastern Coachella Valley were taken to a hospital today with respiratory problems due to smoke from a nearby debris fire that has been burning since Monday, and the campus was evacuated along with two other schools.

Desert Mirage High School, Las Palmitas Elementary School and Toro Canyon Middle School were evacuated around 9:45 a.m., and all classes were canceled for the day. Fire officials initially reported that Mecca Elementary School had also been evacuated, but later said that school was not affected.

Cal Fire Riverside Capt. Fernando Herrera said Desert Mirage High School officials called 911 around 7:45 a.m., when 25 students complained of smoke-related health concerns. Of the 25 students, 14 were taken to a hospital for treatment, and the others were released to their parents or guardians, fire officials said.

The majority of the health concerns were minor, with the exception of three students who suffered from preexisting respiratory issues, such as asthma, Herrera said.

As of mid-afternoon, a decision had not yet been made on whether the affected schools will reopen Friday, according to the Coachella Valley Unified School District superintendent’s office.

The 40-acre mulch fire was reported at 4:32 p.m. Monday near 66th Avenue and Martinez Road at the Sun Valley Recycling Center. A smoke advisory for portions of the Coachella Valley was issued Tuesday by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

On Wednesday, the Bureau of Indian Affairs ordered an immediate halt to dumping operations at the Sun Valley Recycling Center, where several mulch fires have erupted in recent months. If the dumping operations are not immediately halted, the owner will face an injunction and be held liable for damages and all costs associated with enforcement action.