Poor air quality:
Offshore breezes sweep smoke from S.F., Oakland — then the wind shifts
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.