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Smoky skies from California, Oregon wildfires to linger in Bay Area; Spare the Air alert issued

Smoke from NorCal and Oregon wildfires chokes Bay Area
Smoke from NorCal and Oregon wildfires chokes Bay Area 04:52

Bay Area residents woke up Wednesday to more smoky skies from northern wildfires and the haze blanketing the Bay Area will linger for several days, according to forecasters.

Issues with air quality due to the smoke were being felt by Bay Area residents Tuesday morning. By afternoon, a thick haze of smoke was visible in many parts of the region with residents across the Bay Area smelling and feeling the impact of the poor air quality. Wednesday morning, the air quality had still not improved in many areas.  

ALSO READ: Stanford study finds worsening wildfires limit gains in fighting air pollution

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District on Wednesday issued a Spare the Air alert in effect through Thursday because of the drifting smoke from wildfires in Northern California and Oregon. 

UPDATE 9/21: Lingering wildfire smoke from NorCal, Oregon fires prompts extension of Spare the Air alert

The district had previously issued an air quality advisory through Wednesday but upgraded it to the Spare the Air alert - which bans burning wood, fire logs or other solid fuel - because the air in many places had reached unhealthy levels, particularly in parts of the South Bay and East Bay.

"The forecast models said we'd see impacts from smoke but not as much as we did, so it did catch us a little bit off guard," said Charley Knoderer, a meteorologist manager at the air district.

While the impacts from wildfire smoke are always difficult to forecast, current conditions were particularly challenging to predict because much of the smoke that's drifting into the Bay Area is coming off the ocean, where there are no air quality sensors, and prediction models didn't immediately pick up on the plume's movement into the region. 

KPIX asked BAAQMD officials if, given the rapidly changing conditions in places like schools, if there should be more frequent updates.

"What happened is, because we were having this unusual smoke event, things got a little more complicated overnight and yesterday and into the morning than they expected. There was sort of an ad hoc revision of the forecast to protect public health," said Bay Area Air Quality Management District spokesperson Aaron Richardson. "We're definitely more cognizant that we may have to make some adjustments. So we are sort of re-evaulating the forecast a little more often when there's a wildfire event impacting the Bay Area."

In fact, for some parts of the Bay Area, air quality deteriorated overnight. While the North Bay and San Francisco saw slight improvement, the South Bay and parts of the East Bay remained in the red with an AQI reading of 150 or higher. 

Among the wildfires that have smoke drifting south into the Bay Area are the Anvil Fire in Oregon, the SRF Lightning Complex Fire in Humboldt County, and the Smith River Complex Fire in Del Norte County.

Smoky skies Bay Area Oakland San Francisco
A view of the Bay Bridge looking toward Oakland from the top of the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, September 20, 2023. KPIX

Air quality readings Wednesday morning ranged from moderate to unhealthy on the AQI scale across the Bay Area. The air district said the smoke can irritate the eyes and airways, causing coughing, a scratchy throat and irritated sinuses. Also, the elevated particulate matter in the air can trigger wheezing in those who suffer from asthma, emphysema or COPD. 

Children, the elderly, and people with respiratory illnesses were urged to take extra precautions to avoid exposure. Residents were advised to shelter in place if possible and to set air conditioning units and car vent systems to recirculate to keep outside air from moving inside.  

In addition to staying inside with the doors and windows shut, people were advised to wear a mask if venturing outside and to stay hydrated during this period of poor air quality.

Across the Bay Area, outdoor youth sports practices and games were being canceled on Wednesday. The smoky air shut down the Oakland Zoo Wednesday. Zoo officials said those who had a reservation for a visit should check their email for info about a refund.

They also said they planned to keep all the animals safe from the poor air quality.

In Sonoma County, officials issued a health advisory through Wednesday because of the poor air quality. 

KPIX meteorologist Jessica Burch said Wednesday morning the unhealthy air readings were being seen all across the Bay Area and that being outside for any prolonged period is not advisable.

"If you were to stand outside right now in current conditions for the next 24 hours, that's equivalent to smoking anywhere from three to seven cigarettes," said Burch.

Increasing offshore winds would help dissipate the smoky air throughout the day Wednesday but hazy conditions would linger into Thursday, especially in the North Bay, Burch said.

Meanwhile, the increasing winds have prompted the National Weather Service to issue a Fire Weather Watch for portions of the interior North Bay. It will be in effect Wednesday night through Thursday morning because of limited overnight humidity recovery combined with gusty north winds.

Wind directions are expected to shift late Thursday into Friday morning, bringing some relief from the smoke  

KPIX Weather Center: Current conditions, alerts, maps for your area

People can find the latest air quality readings in their part of the region by visiting:

IQAir -

Bay Area Air Quality Management District -

Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District -

Purple Air -

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