San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen is urging the city to prepare for the fire next time.
San Francisco and local air regulators need to equip every school classroom in the city with an air filtration system and purchase thousands of air respirator masks, Ronen said, in anticipation of the next massive California wildfire that sends unhealthy amounts of smoke into the Bay Area.
"San Francisco is in a state of crisis," said Ronen Tuesday. "Our current emergency systems are inadequate to handle the dangers of unbreathable air."
In addition to being the supervisor from District 9, Ronen sits on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District's board of directors.
"It's my responsibility in those dual roles to take some leadership in preparing for this very scary situation we continue to find ourselves in," Ronen said. "We cannot breathe the air and be healthy."
Mayor London Breed defended the city's reaction to the air quality problems on Tuesday.
"I think overall we've had a good response and we are fortunate that we have not seen a spike in the number of emergency-type situations since this has occurred," Breed said. "I say that's pretty good."
Smoke from the Camp Fire in Butte County, the most destructive and deadliest wildfire in California history, has streamed into the region for close to two weeks, fouling the air in a significant portion of the Bay Area.
According to the standard Air Quality Index, used by the EPA and other agencies, the air has been mostly"unhealthy" and at times "hazardous," prompting hundreds of thousands of local residents to stay indoors and use N95 masks when venturing out. The heavy levels of pollution also prompted scores of school districts and universities to cancel classes.
But some homeless advocates say that was not enough and that the city should have handed out more masks.
Ronen could not find a respirator mask in San Francisco to fit her 6-year-old child, an experience other parents have had in the Bay Area. She said that has led her to call on the air district and city officials to make sure there are enough masks on hand.
Last Friday the San Francisco Unified School District canceled classes due to the smoke.
"I find that scary and unacceptable," Ronen said.
District officials say they've worked to improve the situation.
"Many of our schools were built before the 1950s, but they have all gone through modernization," SFUSD spokeswoman Laura Dudnick said. "As part of that modernization program, we check to make sure there's proper air circulation. Schools with mechanical ventilation systems have standard air filters as well."
It's unclear how much it would cost to purchase thousands of masks and hundreds of air filtration systems. Ronen said she would work with the city's legislative and budget analyst, the SFUSD and the air district to determine a price tag and a proper source of funding to pay for them.
Relying on PG&E
Ronen also said Pacific Gas & Electric's actions and the concerns about its future financial health in the wake of the Camp Fire mean San Francisco should accelerate its transition away from relying on the company for electricity.
Power lines operated by PG&E have been scrutinized as potentially starting the Camp Fire. Cal Fire has blamed PG&E for causing more than a dozen wildfires that ravaged parts of Northern California last year.
Those investigations and a string of lawsuits have some observers predicting the utility could file for bankruptcy.
CleanPower SF, the city's program providing customers with energy from green energy sources, relies on PG&E to deliver that energy.
The city should start the process of becoming independent from the company, Ronen said.
"It's time for San Francisco to either buy that grid from PG&E or build our own."
Tony Khing, a PG&E representative, declined to comment on Ronen's remarks.
"Right now, our entire company is focused on supporting first responders and assisting our customers and communities impacted by the Camp Fire," Khing said in an email.