Poor air qual­ity:

Off­shore breezes sweep smoke from S.F., Oakland — then the wind shifts

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By De­nis Cuff and Si­mar Khanna Staff writ­ers Con­tact De­nis Cuff at 925-943-8267 and Si­mar Khanna at 925-847-2112.

Many suf­fer­ing thanks to soot­filled skies.

Smoke from the Wine Coun­try wild­fires choked much of the greater Bay Area on Wed­nes­day as shift­ing winds steered un­healthy soot as far south as San Jose and Liver­more and east into An­ti­och.

“It was fine this morn­ing but by lunchtime … it’s bad. Very hazy. You can smell the smoke in the air,” said Erin Har­ri­son, a spokes­woman for the Oakland Zoo, where some of the em­ploy­ees were wear­ing face masks. All night houses were opened up for the an­i­mals to seek shel­ter in­doors.

From the zoo’s new gon­dola, Har­ri­son said, the view to San Fran­cisco is clear on most days. “To­day we couldn’t see past the zoo.”

At nearby Chabot Space & Sci­ence Cen­ter, a re­do­r­ange sun peered through the haze.

“I’m in­doors and I can smell the smoke. It’s pretty thick,” said Ben Bur­ress, a staff as­tronomer. “We’re at 1,500 feet and we are still get­ting quite a bit of smoke.”

At San Fran­cisco In­ter­na­tional Air­port, 80 flights were can­celled Wed­nes­day due to the re­duced vis­i­bil­ity from the smoke.

Af­ter a third con­sec­u­tive day of un­healthy smoke in some ar­eas, the re­gion’s air qual­ity district took the un­prece­dented step of ex­tend­ing a Bay Area-wide smoke health ad­vi­sory through Sun­day.

“We have never done this be­fore, but we have never had smoke this con­cen­trated for an ex­tended pe­riod of time,” said Tom Flan­ni­gan, a spokesman for the nine-county Bay Area Air Qual­ity Man­age­ment District.

“We ad­vise peo­ple to wear an N-95 rated mask to pro­tect them­selves,” said Eric Steven­son, a tech­ni­cal man­ager at the air district.

He said the smoke ad­vi­sory urges the pub­lic to stay in­doors as much as pos­si­ble, limit out­door ac­tiv­i­ties, and close doors and win­dows if they smell smoke or find out their area has un­healthy smoke lev­els.

Schools in West Con­tra Costa County and An­ti­och will be closed Thurs­day be­cause of the air qual­ity. Oth­ers have can­celed sports events.

Many Bay Area dis­tricts are keep­ing stu­dents in­doors at re­cess and lunchtime, and be­gin­ning to dis­cuss whether they will need to post­pone or can­cel Fri­day night sport­ing events.

“Our be­lief is the kids are safer in school, but while in school we want to limit their time out­doors to min­i­mize the exposure to smoke,” said Dion­i­cia Ramos, a spokes­woman for the Hayward Uni­fied School District. “The air seemed bet­ter in the morn­ing, but in the af­ter­noon, it looked like the smoke was just rolling in from the north.”

On Mon­day, parts of the Bay Area such as Napa had the high­est smoke con­cen­tra­tions ever recorded by the air pol­lu­tion district.

Early Wed­nes­day morn­ing, off­shore breezes kicked in, sweep­ing the smoke out of San Fran­cisco and some East Bay ar­eas like Oakland, but the re­lief was short lived.

By the af­ter­noon, a wind shift steered the wild­fire smoke back to the south again, sweep­ing tons of soot into Oakland and the Di­ablo and Santa Clara val­leys.

Air qual­ity in San Jose had been mod­er­ate or bet­ter un­til Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon when it be­came un­healthy for the first time this week, ac­cord­ing to a pol­lu­tion map by the air district and the Cal­i­for­nia En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

“The smoke is ac­cu­mu­lat­ing,” Flan­ni­gan said, “and it’s not be­ing swept out.”

Vallejo be­came a hot spot for the worst pol­lu­tion, ac­cord­ing to an En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency map that tracked the smoke as it moved about.

The city east of the Wine Coun­try was en­cir­cled in deep pur­ple on the map Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, a color in­di­cat­ing haz­ardous con­di­tions.

The air district is­sued an­other Spare the Air alert for Thurs­day, ask­ing the pub­lic not to light bar­be­cues, run lawn mow­ers, or do other ac­tiv­i­ties that would add more fine par­ti­cles to the air.

Smoke can trig­ger asthma and em­phy­sema at­tacks, and in­crease the risk of strokes and heart at­tacks among the el­derly or those with cir­cu­la­tory problems.


Haze from the Wine Coun­try fires 50 miles away to the north­west hov­ers in Wal­nut Creek on Wed­nes­day.

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