The view from Lisa Handwerker’s balcony Tuesday, Aug. 18, as wildfires contributed to visually stunning skies. Photo: Lisa Handwerker
Editor’s note: Berkeleyside is resharing this Aug. 19 story due to ongoing poor air quality.
After witnessing a stunning sunset Tuesday night, many Berkeleyans woke up Wednesday to the smell of smoke in the air. Some found
ash in their yards and coating their cars.
Wildfire season is upon us.
At 10 a.m.
the air quality index (AQI), measured at the Air Now monitor at Aquatic Park, was 90 PM2.5, which is classified as “moderate” as it’s in the 50-100 range. But it was on the rise: at 9 a.m. the measurement was 82 PM2.5. Once it tips over 101 PM2.5, the air is deemed “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” The AQI measures particulate matter pollution (PM2.5).
The city of Berkeley issued guidelines this morning on how to check current local air quality conditions, as well as tips to protect one’s health when air quality is poor (see below). Not all air quality measurements will be the same. The San Francisco Chronicle explains
why it’s so confusing. Berkeleyside relies on the AQI measurements taken at Aquatic Park every hour by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
Unfortunately, just as scientists are reporting that the
risk of contracting COVID-19 is reduced when outdoors, the health advice around air quality is to stay indoors.
Spare the Air alert has been issued through Wednesday, banning wood burning, and an air quality advisory through Thursday. (Update: Around 2 p.m., the Spare the Air advisory was extended through Sunday.)
Fires are currently being tackled and evacuations are under way in Napa, including the Hennessey Fire near St. Helena, the
LNU Lightning Complex fires that are raging in multiple counties and the CZU August Lightning Complex fires in Santa Cruz county. The San Francisco Chronicle has a free-to-access California Fire Map that is tracking wildfires across San Francisco Bay Area, Sonoma, Northern California, Central California and Southern California.
“The air quality will be very poor for the foreseeable future given rapid spread of fires and stagnant air mass,” the Bay Area arm of the National Weather Service
tweeted on Wednesday morning around 7:40 a.m.
This is not the first time in recent history Berkeley has felt the impact of wildfires elsewhere. The past three years have forced residents to take measures to avoid inhaling air pollutants caused by,
in 2017 the wine country fires, in 2018 the deadly Camp Fire, and in 2019 the Kincade Fire. In the worst cases, when AQI was in the “unhealthy” (151-200) and “very unhealthy” (201-300) ranges, schools, colleges and farmers markets closed.
Guidelines, tips and resources from the city of Berkeley
Check on air quality in Berkeley
Check airnow.gov to find current air quality conditions in Berkeley and follow the tips on this page to protect your health when air quality is poor.
In all cases, make sure we can reach you in an emergency.
Sign up for AC Alert.
Protect your health
When air is unhealthy, the best option is to reduce physical activity and
stay indoors with doors and windows closed.
Drink lots of water to stay hydrated. Smoke can irritate your eyes and airways, cause cough, a dry scratchy throat, runny nose, trouble breathing, and irritate your sinuses.
Avoid behaviors that make air quality in your home worse:
Set air conditioning units to re-circulate so you don’t bring outside air in.
Don’t smoke, burn candles, or use incense.
Don’t use gas, propane, or wood burning stoves. Avoid frying or broiling meat.
Minimize time outside as much as possible.
When you must go outside, don’t rely on dust masks or bandanas for protection. They do nothing to protect against smoke particles.
N-95s are not for everyone
There is no clear evidence that respirator use by the general public is beneficial. N-95 respirators may not protect you and may be dangerous for certain people. N-95 respirators are not meant for everyone:
Talk to your doctor first if you have a health condition.
N-95 respirators may be dangerous for people with lung or heart conditions.
Children should not wear N-95 respirators.
N-95 respirators are not certified for children; they do not fit properly and can impede breathing.
If you choose to wear an N-95 respirator, make sure it is fitted properly
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Wearing an ill-fitted respirator can lead to a false sense of security.
Steps for everyone
Other steps you can take to prepare for poor air quality:
Know where to go
Make a list of places you can go with clean, filtered air.
Weatherize your home
Replace leaky windows and doors. Use caulking to seal the openings.
Gather supplies you need to stay in your home while air quality is poor. See the CDC’s website on personal health preparedness.
Get an air purifier for your home
If you have an HVAC system, get a MERV 13 or greater filter. Otherwise, get a HEPA air purifier. The California Air Resources Board has information about selecting an air cleaning device.
Create a family emergency plan
Before an emergency happens, sit down together and decide how you will get in contact with each other, where you will go and what you will do in an emergency. See FEMA’s family emergency plan checklist.
Individuals with health conditions
If you have a health condition or belong to a group at high risk when air quality is poor, talk to your doctor in advance to create a personal plan for dealing with smoke.
The groups at greatest risk from wildfire smoke are:
People who have heart or lung disease
Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside.
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