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Northern Santa Barbara and southern San Luis Obipo counties were shrouded in a thick smoke plume from the Thomas fire Sunday, as it continued to burn to the south near Santa Barbara and Ojai.

Santa Maria and Lompoc are expected to experience an unhealthy air quality through Monday, according to forecasts provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The decline in air quality is largely driven by an increase in fine particulate matter and rising levels of large particulate matter — mainly ash — carried from the fire by upper level winds. Smoke and ash are expected to continue its drift through northern portions of Santa Barbara County throughout the week.

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Representatives from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department said they are planning to work their way north and distribute N95 particulate respirator masks in portions of northern Santa Barbara County on Monday. Details regarding the handouts are being refined, according to County Health spokesperson Susan Klein-Rothschild.

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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