Air quality plummets in Bay Area due to wildfire smoke

Worsening air quality in the Bay Area due to wildfires  in Northern California and Oregon led authorities to issue a Spare the Air alert for Wednesday and Thursday.

Initially, an air quality advisory had been issued by the Bay Area monitors, but it was upgraded to the more serious alert as conditions became unhealthier around the region.

Parts of the North Bay are at risk of wildfires. There is a red flag warning for parts of Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties from 11 p.m. Wednesday until Thursday at 5 p.m. Dry conditions combined with warm temperatures and gusty wind create the increased risk of fires, according to the National Weather Service.

Hazy skies were seen in much of the Bay Area. On Wednesday morning, some of the worst conditions were in the South Bay and East Bay, near Livermore.

"There's just a whole complex of fires up in Northern California and in Southern Oregon, and they've kind of intensified a little bit over the last few days and over the weekend, and then a lot of that smoke was sort of being borne out over the ocean recently, but the weather patterns have shifted, and that's bringing all of that smoke sort of into the Bay Area, especially into the regions right around the Golden Gate. So that's why we're seeing some pretty heavy impacts today," said Aaron Richardson, a spokesperson for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

The winds blowing the smoke into the Bay Area are forecast to shift direction late on Thursday or Friday, which will usher in some relief, the National Weather Service said.

Many school districts sent messages to parents that children would be kept indoors to avoid exposure to the pollutants that can irritate eyes and throats, cause headaches and potentially more serious consequences for people with respiratory problems.

The smoky air started to be noticeable on Tuesday, leading to many people avoiding outdoor activities. In Berkeley at a soccer field complex, only a few people were out playing in the usually crowded facility. 

"There was a game earlier today that was called off because of air quality," said Michael Scribner a Berkeley parent with two sons who were out on the field practicing, "They came out to do some training but on the way here we got the notification that all practices were canceled." 

In the afternoon Tuesday, the air quality plummeted. The PurpleAir website, showed particulate matter levels from the toxic smoke was near the 200 range throughout the Bay Area with the worst air concentrated in San Francisco and Oakland. A 200 level PM reading calls for a health alert, "The risk of health effects is increased for everyone with 24 hours of exposure," according to the website. 

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District staff say the most reliable data is on the EPA website They say it is more accurate because crowdsourcing data from the Purple Air website come from sensors that can register falsely high numbers and are not calibrated to federal standards. 

Anyone who smells smoke is advised to stay inside with windows and doors closed and to set air conditioning units and car vent systems to re-circulate to stop outside air from coming inside, according to the air district.

Air quality advisory in effect through Wednesday. 

On Monday, the air quality management district posted to social media that the air quality was expected to be good for all regions on Monday and Tuesday. That did not end up being true for Tuesday when the particulate matter readings were unhealthy for sensitive groups. 

Richardson said they knew there was a chance of smoke impacting the area this week, but it hit sooner than expected. 

Mayor London Breed posted to X to say the city was experiencing significant air quality impacts. "We know it's fire season and this will happen," she said. 

According to the website IQAir, San Francisco had the worst air quality in the world Tuesday afternoon.

Smoky air throughout the Bay Area. Photo taken in Oakland looking west toward the Bay. 

Residents throughout the area reported the smell of smoke and that they were keeping their windows shut to avoid the smoky air. 

"The weather was quite warm. The air quality was quite poor. You could tell the smoke was in the air," said John Maa, a surgeon with Marin Health Medical Center who was working in Novato Tuesday, "I noticed it. You could smell the fires."

Some people wore masks as a protection against the smoke.

"On a day like this I get short of breath and I carry an inhaler with me. I work in one of the stores, and we normally have our doors open. We closed our doors," said Judith Garneri of San Rafael, who was wearing a mask as she left her job at store in Corte Madera.

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

Bay City News contributed to this story.