Update, Wednesday, Oct. 18: The EPA reports that the Berkeley air quality is “Moderate” today. Unusually sensitive people should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion.
Update, Tuesday, Oct. 17: “Spare the Air” advisories have been issued for Tuesday and Wednesday, and health advisories have been issued too, “due to potential smoke” from the fires up north. See the five-day air quality forecast. (See the “Coast and Central Bay” section for Berkeley numbers.) Learn more about who has face masks, and what some health professionals think of them.
Update, Saturday, Oct. 14: Good news: Air Now reports Berkeley air quality around noon as “Moderate” (Air Quality Index of 64) compared to “Unhealthy,” which was the case in the morning (154). See more local sensor data from Clarity Movement, a Berkeley start-up focused on clean air and fighting pollution.
Update, Friday, Oct. 13: Since this story was published several red flag warnings have been issued, the latest of which was Friday for the East Bay hills — from 5 p.m. Friday until 11 p.m. Saturday.
Original story: “It’s literally raining ash here in West Berkeley,” wrote Nima Mohseni on Twitter at 1:15 p.m. Wednesday. Numerous local residents say they are seeing smoke from the fires up north in wine country descending around the city.
The EPA is showing unhealthy air quality levels in Berkeley, and a red flag warning — signaling high fire danger — is set to go into effect Wednesday night. The “red flag” warning has been issued through Thursday at 5 p.m. as northerly winds are expected to “combine with dry fuels to produce critical fire weather conditions.” The Berkeley Hills are particularly vulnerable, and the city has posted wildfire evacuation information online.
“People in and around the Berkeley hills are encouraged to park in their driveways or garages, leaving streets clear for emergency vehicles. Use extreme caution when operating BBQs, power equipment or other heat sources such as idling cars. Fireworks are completely forbidden in the City of Berkeley and surrounding areas,” the city said in a statement Wednesday.
Just before 10:30 a.m., Ellen Simms wrote on Twitter that “Air suddenly got worse in North Berkeley flats.” As of 1 p.m., an EPA map showed West Berkeley in the “unhealthy” range of the Air Quality Index. By 3 p.m., the status in Berkeley had been downgraded to the slightly better “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” But a look at broader Bay Area air quality described it as still “unhealthy” in the region as of that time. (NB: The online EPA maps have been unavailable at times throughout the day due to too much demand.)
Ryan Edwards wrote on Twitter he has seen at least two UC Berkeley students wearing masks, apparently in response to the air quality. “Wild thing is that @wunderground sensors nearby seem to show reduced particulate concentrations today, though smell is intense,” he wrote.
“Feels worse today than yesterday. Brief walk around the neighborhood had me coughing,” wrote @beaudotgiles.
An AC Alert notice went out just after publication advising that “Due to the very active wildfires in Napa and Sonoma counties and changing wind patterns, smoke is visible throughout the Bay Area. Unless you see flames or an active column of smoke, there is no need to call 9-1-1 to report smoke in the air.”
A Health Advisory was issued Wednesday by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District: “Very unhealthy air quality from the wildfires in the North Bay is causing unprecedented levels of air pollution throughout the Bay Area. Due to active wildfires and changing wind patterns, air quality could be impacted for many days to come. Outside of the active fire areas, air quality will be variable and unpredictable. Air quality may improve at times or get worse, very quickly.”
The Berkeley Unified School District has also posted a message to families about what they can do to stay safe. Principals have been advised “to limit students’ physical activity outside, and we are advising staff to keep windows closed and consider turning off forced-air systems that bring outside air into classrooms. As conditions improve, students will be allowed outdoors.” As of Wednesday evening, school was still set to open on schedule Thursday.
— John Q McDonald (@jqmcd) October 11, 2017
— stefie (@stefiegraphie) October 11, 2017
— Susi P Jensen (@susipjensen) October 11, 2017
OSH was out of respirator masks so I'm out here breathing it all in. Sucks https://t.co/JAW5qbzfhk
— nima (@datboicream) October 11, 2017
I attempted to ride my bike this morning. Cut it short after hacking up what felt like battery acid.
— David Elrod (@TheDavidElrod) October 11, 2017
This story was updated after publication to include more recent information.