Hazy skies over Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley at dawn on Monday Oct. 28. Photo: Sarah Han
Hazy skies over Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley at dawn on Monday, Oct. 28. Photo: Sarah Han

Update, 2:50 p.m. Air quality in the city has been improving steadily over the day Monday, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s monitor in West Berkeley. As of noon, the rating was listed as moderate, meaning that only “unusually sensitive people should consider limiting prolonged outdoor exertion.” See the latest air quality numbers for Monday.

Original story, 9:55 a.m. Berkeley residents woke to a distinctly smoky smell in the air Monday and a yellow haze.

According to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s hourly monitoring, the AQI (Air Quality Index) reached “unhealthy” in Berkeley at 6 a.m. Monday.

In Berkeley, the monitoring is done at Aquatic Park. “Unhealthy” means fine particulate matter is between 151 and 200 parts per million at 2.5 microns or PM 2.5, a standard measure of air particulates. The 6 a.m. reading was 152. It was up to 158 at 7 a.m.

Smoke from the Kincade Fire moved into the Bay Area on Sunday night and early Monday, according to officials from the Air District.

When air is unhealthy, residents are encouraged to stay indoors as much as possible with windows and doors closed. That’s especially the case for people with asthma, emphysema or COPD. Seniors, children and people with preexisting lung or respiratory conditions are most vulnerable. Avoiding exertion outdoors is advised for everyone.

Becky Hughes, visiting Berkeley from Seattle, was getting coffee in Berkeley on Monday morning. She has asthma and plans to stay indoors for the rest of the day. Photo: Kate Rauch Credit: Alastair MacDowell

Becky Hughes, visiting Berkeley from Seattle for the weekend, said, “I’m sick of hearing people telling me this is the new normal, although I realize it is.”

Hughes, who has asthma, was wheezing Monday morning as she walked for coffee in North Berkeley, and said she’ll try to stay indoors. She also lamented that though she has Bay Area family and friends she often visits, she’ll try to avoid the area during fire season.

The Air District declared Monday a Spare the Air Day and issued an air quality advisory.

The city of San Pablo also registered unhealthy air Monday morning. Laney College, West Oakland and Concord were registering air that is unhealthy only for sensitive groups.

It’s hard to know how Bay Area smoke conditions will develop, as it depends on wind directions.

A Berkeley resident wears a mask as he sets off to work on his bike Monday morning. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
A Berkeley resident wears a mask as he sets off to work on his bike Monday morning. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Mask use controversial

In previous smoky Bay Area conditions, people were encouraged to wear face masks outside, especially the N95, a high-quality mask that often comes with a respirator. Stores quickly sold out of those masks, with brisk orders.

The use of N95 face masks is now controversial, with some health officials saying they can do more harm than good if not used correctly. The masks must be fitted properly over the nose and mouth to ensure that dirty air doesn’t get trapped so that there is an effective seal.

They are also not advised for children, because they’re sized for adults faces.

Some, however, say fears of N95 misuse for adults are exaggerated.

There’s agreement that the best advice is to stay indoors and avoid harmful air. Most Berkeley public libraries have filtered air and are also offering free phone and laptop charging stations, as well as round-the-clock wifi outside the building, for those affected by the P&GE power shutoff.

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Freelancer Catherine "Kate" Rauch has been contributing to Berkeleyside for several years. Her work as a journalist has encompassed everything from 10 years as a daily news reporter for the East Bay Times,...