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San Francisco's Emergency Plan For Poor Air, Extreme Heat Could Cancel Outdoor Events

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- San Francisco is creating an emergency plan for poor air quality and hot weather, and a report from the Department of Public Health lays out some actions the city could take to keep people from getting sick.

The report says San Francisco actually has better air than most major American cities, but in November, it had the absolute worst.

For 13 days after the Camp Fire consumed most of the town of Paradise, thick, acrid smoke hung over the Bay Area like a funeral pall. But it wasn't enough to cancel San Francisco's farmer's market at UN Plaza, even though some there thought it should have at the time.

"I think it should have been shut down," said Murry Green, a worker at Sunday's "Heart of the City" Farmers Market. "Yeah, really, because a lot of people were still gasping for air."

"It was really bad," recalled San Francisco resident Michael Hymes. "About half the people here had masks on, debris was coming all over the place…you couldn't hardly breathe."

Hymes works as an unofficial parking guide for tips and says it seemed crazy that people were still coming to the outdoor event that week. The Department of Public Health agrees; they've developed a set of proposals for days with extremely bad air and even extreme heat that includes cancelling permitted outside events like farmers markets and festivals.

"When that was happening, did it feel like you shouldn't be outdoors at all?" KPIX 5 reporter John Ramos asked customer Nicodemus Brown.

"Yes," he replied. "I knew I should not be outdoors. I stayed most of the time indoors, you know, at home or the library, in a café…anywhere I could get indoors."

Another suggestion in the report is opening "cleaner air" centers and cooling centers in air conditioned buildings like libraries and schools. The draft proposal tends to discourage handing out N95 masks for people living on the streets, putting the emphasis instead on getting them indoors if possible.

But the emergency plan, like the bad air itself, isn't exactly something that those who make their living outdoors are looking forward to.

"If it's more of a regular thing that we have to deal with I'm sure it would affect us a lot more…which would be very unfortunate," said vendor Tyler Relyea.

"That does have an impact on people, right?" Ramos asked vendor Tana Chantharath.

"Yeah, it does, but if it's mandatory, there's nothing we can really do…especially if it's 'health.' That might be more important than, you know, making an income," she replied.

The emergency plan is being formulated not because of what happened, but because of what may come. As the climate changes, planners believe catastrophic wildfires could become the new normal. The report points out that, of the 30 worst air quality days on record, 18 of them occurred during the 2017 Wine Country fires and last year's fire in Paradise.

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