Bay Area Air Quality Improves Slightly Tuesday, Suggests Caution

A helicopter drops water on the Kincade Fire as it burns through the Windsor area on Sunday. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Update Tuesday, 10:50 a.m.: The interactive, crowdsourced air quality map called Purple Air shows orange levels today throughout  San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. This means all active adults and children, and people with respiratory problems should limit outdoor exertion.

Air quality deteriorates to red, or "unhealthy" levels in Richmond, Vallejo, and the North Bay up through Novato. This means everyone, especially children, should limit prolonged outdoor activity, and active children and adults as well as people who have respiratory problems should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion.

North of Cotati and closer to the Kincade Fire, the air quality continues to deteriorate to "hazardous" levels. In these conditions, health officials encourage people to avoid all outdoor activity and warn that the anyone's health can be affected.

Update Monday, 9:55 a.m.: The air over Berkeley smells like an ashtray this morning, as winds died off and stopped pushing smoke out of the region. The interactive, crowdsourced air quality map called Purple Air shows red, "unhealthy" levels of ash and soot throughout Berkeley and north past Richmond and San Pablo all the way to the Carquinez Bridge. This means everyone, especially children, should limit prolonged outdoor activity, and active children and adults as well as people who have respiratory problems should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion. Health officials recommend staying indoors with windows and doors closed.

Across the Carquinez Bridge, air quality drops into the "very unhealthy" and "hazardous" levels. When the air is "very unhealthy," officials say everyone, especially children, should limit outdoor activity, and active children and adults as well as people who have respiratory problems should avoid all  outdoor exertion. "Hazardous" levels of soot and ash create a healthy emergency for everyone.

In much of Oakland, Purple Air sensors show air quality in the orange, meaning it's unhealthy for sensitive people. This means all active adults and children, and people with respiratory problems should limit outdoor activity. Scattered parts of East Oakland are showing slightly better air quality, at yellow levels. However, to know where these areas are, you'd need to check the Purple Air map. The Bay Area Air Quality management district's sensor at Laney College is showing yellow levels of particulates.

Purple Air sensors in much of San Francisco are showing yellow levels, meaning people with particularly sensitive respiratory systems should consider limiting outdoor activity. In downtown San Francisco, however, sensors are showing slightly worse air quality, with orange levels.

Update Sunday, 10:50 a.m.: A map loop on the government website Air Now shows the overnight story -- yellow and orange followed by red and purple. That is, air quality that's moderate or unhealthy for sensitive groups deteriorating into very unhealthy air as smoke from the Kincade Fire moves in on strong winds.

By Area air quality officials say those same winds, though, are already turning things around by moving smoke out of the region. Current readings for tiny particulate matter, the dusty smoke and feathery ash that cause the most health problems, are "good" to "moderate." Moderate means very sensitive people should consider limiting outdoor activity.

Air quality in the eastern part of California, though, is poor. In Davis and Sacramento, air quality is "unhealthy for sensitive groups," and people are advised to stay indoors and limit outdoor activity. In Fresno and Modesto, air quality is in the most dangerous "hazardous" category, which can affect everyone.

The interactive, crowdsourced air quality map called Purple Air shows a wide range of air quality conditions across the Bay Area, from "good" to  "unhealthy."

Update Saturday, 10 a.m.:  An interactive, crowdsourced air quality map indicates "moderate" to  "unhealthy" conditions over a large swath of the Bay Area. The least healthy air readings, visible as  orange on the map, are near the origin of the fire - Healdsburg and Cloverdale in Sonoma County, where people with respiratory issues along with active adults and children should limit their exertion outdoors.

Throughout the northern, central and eastern Bay Area, air quality conditions are "moderate." That reading means people with unusual sensitivity to air quality should limit their outdoor activities.

The maps are based on reports of fine, often microscopic, particulates in the air - the ash, soot and other materials in the smoke from the Kincade Fire that's spreading as far south as Santa Clara County. Prolonged exposure to these particles can damage the heart and lungs. so it's important to avoid breathing outdoor air as much as possible. Here's some information about ways to stay safe.

Update Friday, 12:05 p.m.: “Moderate” air quality conditions spread through the Bay Area Friday morning. As of 11 a.m., the current recommendation from air quality officials is that "unusually sensitive people should consider limiting prolonged outdoor exertion."

At a San Francisco press conference Friday morning, Jarrett Claiborne, an air quality meteorologist with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), said air quality is expected to deteriorate throughout Friday afternoon.

Claiborne says Thursday afternoon, winds that were pushing smoke from the Kincade Fire toward the Pacific Ocean relaxed, while winds from the North picked up.

“So what that means for us is the winds came from the North to the South, and now that plume of smoke is tracking toward the Bay Area as we speak,” he said.

Claiborne forecasts air quality in the Bay Area will reach levels “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.” That appears orange on air quality maps later Friday afternoon and into Saturday. 

This means active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should limit their activities outdoors.

Air quality officials say that while smoke is one concern for Bay Area residents this weekend, compounding that is heat. Temperatures in the high 80s are expected Bay-wide.

“Normally when we have air quality issues, we tell people to stay indoors with their windows and doors closed. But that may not be an option for some if heat is an issue in their home,” said Kristine Roselius, spokesperson for BAAQMD.

“We’re recommending people seek out cooling centers or places that have filtered air such as libraries, movie theaters or malls.”

Roselius says winds forecast for later this weekend are expected to blow fire-related pollution out of the Bay Area. 

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"The combination of high temperatures in San Francisco and across the Bay Area and expected wildfire smoke from the Kincade Fire may cause a simultaneous heat and poor air quality event. People should prioritize keeping cool and hydrated when the weather is hot and the air quality is poor."

-The Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the San Francisco Department of Public Health

Update Friday, 9 a.m.: As of Friday morning at 8:00 am, the Air Quality Index (AQI) for San Francisco shifted from "good" to "moderate." That means "Unusually sensitive people should consider limiting prolonged outdoor exertion." Moderate conditions show up in yellow on air quality maps. These are present around Santa Rosa in the North, San Jose in the South and Livermore in the East Bay.

Air quality in other Bay Area cities remains "good" as of Friday morning. However, officials say they expect unhealthy conditions to spread throughout Friday and into the weekend.

We will continue to update this post throughout the day.

While winds in Sonoma County fell Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service is warning that extreme winds this weekend could be the most dangerous since the 2017 wine country fires. Officials are expecting winds to kick up Saturday night with gusts up to 45 miles-per-hour along the San Francisco peninsula and Santa Cruz Mountains and 75 miles-per-hour at the tallest mountain peaks in the North Bay and East Bay. They've issued a fire weather watch through Monday morning.

Unhealthy Air Moving In

Smoke from the Kincade fire moved out over the ocean on Thursday, but winds are expected to shift overnight and National Weather Service maps show smoke moving south across the Bay Area throughout the day on Friday.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has called a Spare the Air alert for Friday and is urging people to stay indoors with doors and windows closed; this alone can cut indoor pollution by half. Officials also advise setting air conditioning to recirculate in order to prevent outdoor air from being pulled indoors. If you're troubled by the level of smoke in the air, here are other steps you can take to protect your health.

Wildfire smoke contains tiny particles in the ash and soot that can lodge in the lungs; the smallest particles can even enter the blood stream. They cause inflammation that can trigger breathing problems, and can damage the lungs, leading to pneumonia or bronchitis.

Kincade Fire Spreads

Late Thursday, CalFire officials said the Kincade Fire has burned 49 buildings and spread to 16,000 acres.

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