Air quality continues to be a major concern throughout the Bay Area on Friday as smoke from the deadly and destructive Camp Fire blankets the region. But meteorologists with the National Weather Service overnight gained confidence in their forecast for widespread rainfall in the middle of next week that could wash away the smoky haze and improve air quality.
“Right now, it looks like the systems are going to dig far enough south along the California coast that it should give everyone some rainfall,” Roger Gass, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said Friday morning.
Air quality levels throughout the Bay Area on Friday morning were in the “unhealthy” range of 151 to 200 on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index, where prolonged exposure is considered harmful even to healthy people. Fine smoke particles can lodge deep in the lungs when inhaled, increasing the risk of asthma, heart attacks, bronchitis and other respiratory problems. The “very unhealthy” levels are between 201 and 300, and any outdoor activity should be avoided. Levels above 300 are deemed “hazardous.”
At 4 a.m., air quality readings included 212 in San Francisco, 202 in San Rafael, 200 in Oakland and 192 in San Jose, based on data from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The weather service expects smoke and haze will continue to affect the region through the weekend.
However, the weather service is forecasting a slight increase in onshore flow along the coast this weekend, and those sea breezes may push some of the smoke and haze farther inland.
“We’re not going to see a complete clearing until we get one of these storm systems to push through in the middle of next week,” Gass said.
Thursday, the weather service reported air quality in the Bay Area was “as bad or worse than any other time” since the Camp Fire began, based on satellite imagery and unofficial air quality sensors.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District extended its “Spare the Air Alert” through Tuesday, prohibiting wood burning. The district advised people throughout the region to limit outdoor activity, as air quality reached levels equivalent to smoking half a dozen cigarettes during the day.
Many Bay Area colleges, including San Jose and San Francisco state universities,Cal State East Bay and Mills College, canceled classes for the week. School districts kept students indoors Thursday and many in the East Bay, including all of Alameda County along with San Jose’s private Presentation High, decided to close Friday.
In Oroville and Chico, where unofficial air quality levels were around 500, breathing the air for 24 hours brought the equivalent health risk of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, according to a calculation done several years ago by Richard Muller, a professor emeritus of physics at UC Berkeley. The “very unhealthy” levels in parts of the Bay Area would be like smoking half a pack, and the “unhealthy” levels reported elsewhere would be like five or six cigarettes.
The Camp Fire, which started the morning of Nov. 8, has burned more than 140,000 acres and was 40 percent contained Thursday morning, according to Cal Fire. It has become the deadliest wildfire in California history, claiming the lives of at least 56 people, with many more still unaccounted for, according to authorities.
Camp Fire: Air quality remains unhealthy in Bay Area, relief may be days away