After a brief supposed respite Wednesday (it was still quite smoky!), San Francisco air quality is expected to be especially bad today, a result of the ongoing wildfires in the North Bay.

While Wednesday's air quality was deemed to be only "yellow" (that is, only moderately polluted as judged by the EPA), the city's Department of Emergency Management announced that we'd be breathing "red" (unhealthy for all) air on Thursday.

With air quality that bad, the DEM says, everyone (not just the young, old, or ill) should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion. All residents are urged to follow these precautions:

  • Minimize outdoor activities
  • Stay indoors with windows and doors closed as much as possible
  • Do not run fans that bring smoky outdoor air inside
  • Run your air-conditioner only if it does not bring smoke in from the outdoors
  • Consider leaving the area until smoke conditions improve if you experience symptoms related to smoke exposure

As we've mentioned in the past, SF residents can hit a couple local libraries that are fitted with air filters to avoid the smoke and ash. Those libraries are:

  • San Francisco Main Library, 100 Larkin St., 9:00 am to 8:00 pm
  • Chinatown Branch Library, 1135 Powell Street, 10:00 am to 9:00 pm
  • Mission Bay Branch Library, 960 Fourth Street, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
  • Glen Park Branch Library, 2825 Diamond Street, 12:00 pm to 7:00 pm
  • Southeast Community Facility/City College of San Francisco Library, 1800 Oakdale Avenue, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

If you must spend significant time outdoors and are considering donning a mask to filter out the particulate, remember that those standard doctor/wood shop masks won't be of use. You'll need a N-95 respirator, as those are made to block around 95 percent of non-oil based particles like the ones smogging up our skies. But don't bank on getting a mask on your first go: In a scenario similar to fan-stocking stores during our recent heat waves, many places are already selling out of the devices, ABC 7 reports.

In fact, skies are so smogged up that flights at SFO are being delayed and canceled, the Merc reports. 80 flights were cancelled as of Tuesday night, at the request of the Federal Aviation Administration, which put the airport on "a delay program, which slows the pace of arriving flights to provide greater separation between aircraft" due to visibility issues related to the smoke.

The problems extend into the South Bay, KRON 4 reports, as the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department has issued a health advisory warning residents to stay indoors. According to the Chron, residents of San Mateo County are also at risk.

Things were also bad in Richmond, where the city's school district reportedly fumbled the situation:

Marissa Glidden, a fifth-grade teacher at Verde Elementary School in Richmond, said the ventilation system at her school was mistakenly never turned off Tuesday, which caused recycled air from outside to pervade classrooms. Then, Glidden said, the school district provided surgical masks, which health departments have warned are ineffective in protecting against smoke.
As poor air quality persisted Tuesday, Glidden’s students began signing out as some coughed, at least one student vomited, and a teacher in a classroom next door suffered an asthma attack. At least three students had to leave in an ambulance from Richmond High School, she said.

“It was miserable. It felt really bad as a teacher to try to protect your kids,” said Glidden, who is vice president of United Teachers of Richmond union. “We’re stuck in a smoky classroom with no communication about what to do.”

While Richmond schools work to right their ship, KRON 4 reports that public school students in the neighboring city of Oakland "will be given excused absences should they stay home from school because of the poor air quality," an offer that I'm sure had many kids coming up with coughs this morning. (Not to make light of what is truly a serious situation! But we were all young once, and we know how this goes.)

The issues with air quality are expected to extend into the weekend, a problem that's spurred the cancellation of the Virgin Sport "Festival of Fitness" planned for SF this weekend, event organizers say on their website. The festival was expected to include a one mile race and a half marathon through the city streets, but concerns about "the health and safety of our athletes and volunteers" as well as a desire not to use "valuable Bay Area first responders and resources that can be better utilized elsewhere" caused its cancellation.

According to a statement from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the situation will change moment by moment in the days ahead, as “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," they say.

This uncertainty may be our new normal, the Washington Post reports, saying that "The sea breeze will be weak, and that cool, damp marine layer? Nope — not beyond the coastal areas."

This is bad news for people who enjoy breathing clean air. Even if the fires can be reined in, parts of North Bay will still be burning and producing giant plumes of air-polluting smoke. With winds from the north through the weekend, the choking conditions can be expected to continue.

So the best thing we can do right now is take care of each other, and ourselves. Please remember to check on your neighbors, especially the elderly or those who might be otherwise impaired by the conditions. It's time to go to the doctor is these symptoms emerge:

  • Repeated coughing
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Palpitations
  • Nausea or unusual fatigue
  • Lightheadedness

And don't hesitate to call 911 for any life-threatening emergencies.

Read all of SFist's coverage of the North Bay Wildfires here