Wildfires have once again engulfed Northern California, causing smoky skies and unhealthy air quality in Berkeley. The fires, which have ravaged both Northern California and Oregon, led to the issuance of a “Spare the Air” alert by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD). This alert is in effect for Tuesday and Wednesday, urging residents to take necessary precautions.
Although Berkeley is located in the Coast and Central Bay zone, which is predicted to have moderate air quality, the BAAQMD’s sensors in Oakland detected air quality index (AQI) readings ranging from 102 to 120 on Tuesday. Unofficial PurpleAir sensors in Berkeley recorded AQIs above 100, indicating that the air is “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” while several sensors even registered AQIs above 151, suggesting that the air is unhealthy for the general public.
The BAAQMD advises individuals to stay indoors with windows and doors closed until smoke levels decrease. Smoke can cause irritation to the eyes and respiratory system, leading to coughing, a scratchy throat, and other discomforts. People with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are particularly vulnerable.
If venturing outside is necessary, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends wearing a tight-fitting N95 or P100 mask to filter out ash and tiny smoke particles. It is important to note that masks with one strap or two straps around the ears may not create a tight seal and therefore do not provide sufficient protection for the lungs.
During the “Spare the Air” alert, the burning of wood or solid fuel is prohibited, and residents are encouraged to limit their driving. When driving is necessary, air conditioning units and car vent systems should be set to re-circulate to prevent outside air from entering the vehicle.
The fires in Northern California and Oregon were initially ignited by lightning strikes in mid-August, according to the U.S. Forest Service. While a fire weather watch has been issued for areas farther north, Berkeley does not currently face a red flag warning as its conditions are not considered “critically dry.”
The Berkeley Police Department has requested that residents refrain from calling 911 to report the smell of smoke unless they observe direct flames or a significant plume of smoke.
Q: What is the “Spare the Air” alert?
A: The “Spare the Air” alert is issued by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District during periods of significant air pollution to encourage residents to reduce their emissions and take precautions to protect their health.
Q: Why are masks recommended during wildfire events?
A: Masks with a high filtration rating, such as N95 or P100 masks, can help filter out harmful particles present in wildfire smoke, providing some degree of protection for the wearer’s respiratory system.
Q: What should be done to limit exposure to wildfire smoke?
A: The best way to limit exposure to wildfire smoke is to stay indoors with windows and doors closed. If venturing outside is necessary, wearing a mask and avoiding strenuous physical activity can help reduce exposure.