Anyone looking out a window on Thursday afternoon was bound to notice a sudden descent of smoke obscuring the Santa Cruz Mountains and tinging the sky with a brownish cast.
The culprits, in part, of the sudden obscurity are massive fires in Northern California and southern Oregon, Bay Area Air Quality Management District spokesman Ralph Borrmann said. The conditions prompted the regional agency to issue a smoke alert Thursday afternoon.
The smoke plume stretching several hundred miles had stayed aloft in recent days, but it is now starting to come down to land level and is affecting the nine-county Bay Area, Borrmann said. Smoke from wildfires in Nevada and Butte counties is moving into the area. Additionally, smoke from other Northern California and Oregon wildfires is coming down the coast and into the Bay Area through the Golden Gate.
The problem is being exacerbated by triple-digit temperatures, which create ozone that is much higher than normal as a result of interacting with emissions from vehicles and other pollutants, he said.
"The extra high heat and soot from the wildfires together are impacting in a severe way. We are issuing a smoke advisory because of the high levels of soot," he said. The agency has already issued Spare the Air alerts for Thursday and Friday for conditions he termed as "unhealthy."
Smoke can irritate the eyes and airways, which could lead to coughing, a scratchy throat and irritated sinuses. Large amounts of particulate matter in the air can trigger wheezing in those who suffer from asthma, emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Elderly persons, children and individuals with respiratory illnesses are particularly susceptible to elevated air pollution levels and should take extra precautions to avoid exposure, he said. People should seek medical help if they are being affected by the conditions, he said.
The district is advising people to close their windows and doors and to stay indoors as much as possible, particularly if they have lung or other related medical conditions.
Borrmann also said the district is asking the public to put off activities that increase pollutants. They should avoid barbecuing, using gas-powered lawn and gardening equipment and driving as little as possible.
The air district also made the following recommendations in its smoke advisory:
• Limit outdoor activities to avoid unnecessary exposure if you smell smoke.
• Set air conditioning units and car vent systems to recirculate to prevent outside air from moving inside.
• Reduce exposure to smoky air by remaining indoors with windows and doors closed, if possible.
• If you cannot keep windows and doors closed due to high temperatures, seek out cooling centers in your area.
• Stay tuned to local media for changes in smoke or weather conditions.
The air district will continue to monitor smoke impacts and issue additional advisories as conditions warrant. More information about local air quality can be found at baaqmd.gov.