Hazardous Air Comes Back to California Years After Smog Wars
(Bloomberg) -- The sky goes dark in the middle of the day in Sacramento, California.
Thick smoke smothers downtown, and the dome of the statehouse is barely visible. Schools are closed. Some colleges and hospitals have told all but essential employees to stay home. Many of the people who still brave the streets are wearing bandannas, masks and even respirators.
Decades after leading the U.S. war against smog and after years of federal and state clean-air legislation, California is once again being crippled by poor air quality -- this time from the deadly wildfires scorching the state.
“It has gotten worse day by day for most of the region,” said Hannah Chandler-Cooley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. “It has been pretty dark. It looks like dense fog and most people have been driving with their headlights on.”
The thick smoke has dropped temperatures as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit (6 Celsius) in many places and has made being outside hazardous. California currently has the worst air quality in the U.S., according to AirNow, the U.S. air-quality-tracking agency created by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Camp Fire, burning about 90 miles (145 kilometers) north of Sacramento, has killed more than 60 people and destroyed thousands of homes since it began last week. It has also turned the air in the area around it hazardous to breathe. Those venturing outdoors Friday without a surgical-grade respirator in a wide swath of Northern California, including Sacramento, are putting themselves at risk, according to AirNow.
Things aren’t much better almost 90 miles away in San Francisco and Oakland.
The University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University rescheduled Saturday’s Big Game -- the famed college football showdown between the two -- to Dec. 1, citing poor air quality. Classes were also canceled Friday.
From San Francisco’s waterfront Embarcadero, the Bay Bridge disappears into a yellow-brown haze. Treasure Island, just offshore, can’t be seen, much less Oakland.
Masks are common, but increasingly hard to find as stores sell out. Those who aren’t wearing them are covering their mouths and noses with scarves -- even on buses and the subway. In Oakland, grassroots groups like “Mask Oakland” are handing out masks to scores of homeless people who have no escape from the choking smoke and live in makeshift tents all over the region.
Public-school districts in Northern California, including in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco are closed for the day -- as is Sacramento.
Even in buildings in San Francisco with air filters, you can’t escape the smell of smoke. And particularly after schools were canceled, there’s a sense of a city hunkering down, trying to wait this out.
(Updates with rescheduling of Big Game in eighth paragraph.)
--With assistance from Dana Hull and David R. Baker.
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