SANTA MARIA, Calif. - People seeking relief from unhealthy air had the chance Tuesday in Santa Maria to receive a free N95 particulate respirator face mask.
Starting at 10 a.m., 30,0000 masks were available for the public to pick up at five distribution sites located at the City's five fire stations.
"I tried to buy one of the masks at some of the stores in town earlier in the week and they didn't have any, so I was really glad for the free giveaway," said Valerie Ward.
For Ward, receiving a mask was particularly important.
"I have stage stage-four lung cancer and emphysema, so having the mask is really important for my health," Ward said.
Ward was one of several people who came out early to Station #4 on S. College Drive to pick up a mask.
According to the fire officials, many people arrived even earlier.
"We started getting calls early in the morning and a little after 8 o'clock, people were already knocking on the doors at the station," said Santa Maria battalion chief Tony Clayburg.
As the Thomas Fire moved into Santa Barbara County over the weekend, it has brought dangerous particles in the air from smoke drifting into the area.
"Very concerned," said David Lopez. "A couple of my kids have asthma, so something like this can trigger their asthma real bad to where they have problems breathing all that ash."
As the ash has fallen down the past few days, it's creating health hazards for everyone in the region
"It's on my hair, it looks like I have dandruff," said Regina Coon. "I'm washing my hair every day. On the cars in the parking lot, on my clothes and my sweaters. It's everywhere."
Even though the air over Santa Maria on Tuesday looked dramatically better than it has over the past couple of days, particulate matter was still visible in the air, making the masks just as important as ever.
"We're glad the fire is not here, but the smoke and ash are pretty bad and it seems to just be settling all around us," Ward said. "We're all kind of suffering in Santa Maria right now."
For those who were able to receive a mask, they said they're grateful for the opportunity.
"I'm worried about everyone," said Monica, who declined to give her last name. "All of the unknowns in the air. It's better to protect ourselves, so I'd like to thank everyone involved and thank you so much for the mask."
City Fire Marshall Darrell Delgado said out of 30,000 masks, about 7,000 are still available.
The remaining masks will be distributed to the public Wednesday only at Fire Station #1 on Cook St.
Masks will be first-come, first-serve and will be handed out beginning at 10 a.m.
Firefighters were assisted Tuesday from volunteers with the CERT, a fire department program that trains community members to prepare for emergency situations.