Spare the Air Alert Extended Through Saturday, Amid Lingering Wildfire Smoke

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A city shrouded in haze.
Downtown Oakland is seen through the wildfire-caused haze on Sept. 20, 2023. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

Updated 11 a.m. Friday

Local air district officials are extending this week’s Spare the Air alert through Saturday, as smoke from wildfires in far Northern California continues to envelop parts of the Bay Area.

Smoke from wildfires burning in Siskiyou, Trinity and Humboldt counties, and in southwestern Oregon, began noticeably creeping into the Bay Area on Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District declared a Spare the Air alert, initially through Thursday. Yesterday, it extended that alert through Friday, and this morning stretched it yet again, through Saturday.

“We’re not quite out of the woods yet,” said Sarah McCorkle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

However, according to the National Weather Service, the smoke is expected to begin to dissipate Friday afternoon.

Spare the Air alerts are issued when air quality index levels reach above 150, which are considered “unhealthy” levels. The amount of pollutants and particulate matter is measured on an air quality index, known as the AQI. During a Spare the Air alert, it is illegal to use fireplaces, wood stoves, outdoor fire pits or other wood-burning devices. Residents are also encouraged to drive less in order to reduce air pollutants.

What to Know About Air Quality

“We are still expecting some smoke to be lingering through Friday, and we are seeing unhealthy levels for sensitive groups tomorrow in some portions of the Bay Area,” said Tina Lands, public information officer for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Meteorologists for the air quality agency expect the smoky skies to begin to clear out by Saturday, pending any unanticipated changes in fire conditions or weather. Dry, low pressure conditions continued through Thursday afternoon. Smoky winds also brought humidity down, which further amplified the fire risk.

On Thursday, PG&E issued a power shutoff alert in the North Bay and other parts of Northern California, including Tehama, Lake Yolo, Butte, Colusa and Glenn counties — and ultimately turned power off around 3 p.m. for about 1,200 customers. Power was restored by 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

Even as smoke in the Bay Area begins to dissipate, fire risk remains extremely high. Parts of Napa and Sonoma counties issued a red flag warning on Wednesday advising residents to take extra caution as combined dry conditions and heat have amplified fire danger. The red flag warning for Napa and Sonoma was canceled midday Thursday, but dry and windy conditions are expected to continue over the weekend.

Additionally, the six currently active fires in Northern California, which started in late August, may continue.

Still, air quality for the Bay Area should begin to improve soon.

Starting Saturday, northerly winds up to 30 mph are expected to shift directions, blowing smoke away from the Bay Area.

“We are seeing a slow improvement of air quality since Tuesday afternoon, that day was probably the worst,” Lands said.

Health officials throughout the Bay Area are advising people to stay indoors if possible as smoke passes through the skies this week, especially for people who may be more at-risk for health issues or injuries from smoke, including people who are pregnant, elderly persons, people who have heart or lung disease, and people with asthma.

Common symptoms from overexposure to smoke and air pollution include irritated eyes and airways, coughing, dry scratchy throats, wheezing and emphysema.

More Air Quality Resources:

KQED’s Lesley McClurg contributed reporting to this story.