Air quality alert: N95 masks may help, not surgical masks

The wildfires in the North Bay area creating what air quality managers are calling the worst air quality ever recorded for smoke. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued a smoke and spare the air advisory through Wednesday.

Air quality managers said the Bay Area has had poor air quality days before because of wildfires but this is unprecedented because of the amount of fires concentrated in one location.

SkyFox captured a smoky sunset hovering over the Bay Area. The smoke kept many people indoors and those where outside call it unusual.

“Today it's still kind of smoky ‘cause Oakland is not like this,” said Joyce Vialpando of Oakland. “Neither is San Francisco.”

“I kind of have a sore throat today,” said Erik Loboschefsky of Sacramento. “I don’t know if it's due to smoke.”

“It’s an unprecedented level of smoke,” said Lisa Fasano of the Bay Area Quality Management District. “It's a lot of really hot fires burning in a fairly condensed area in the North Bay.”

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District said the unhealthy air quality is moving down to Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco and San Mateo counties.

“If we get the winds it will help push the air quality out of the region,” said Fasano. “If we don't get winds it just kind of sits here. That's good for putting out the fire. It's not good for air quality.”

Air quality managers recommend using a N95 mask with a filtration. At the Markus Supply Ace Hardware store in Oakland, N95 masks are flying off the shelves. Only 20-pack boxes are left with a new shipment coming in.
“A lot of people are going up to help the fire, a lot of people are going to volunteer a lot of people walking in the area and they need something to help them breathe,” said Brian Altwarg of Markus Supply Ace Hardware Store.

Health officials warn fine particles of smoke can get into your lungs. People with asthma or any respiratory condition are most at risk. Other people can experience a dry throat, watery eyes and coughing.

“If you have symptoms go in and see your doctor,” said Dr. Runjhun Misra, who practices in internal medicine. “Go into the ER, get evaluated. An important thing is you may not have symptoms until after 36 hours after the exposure.”

Air quality managers advise limiting outdoor activities, setting air conditioners to re-circulate to prevent outside air from moving inside.

More from the California Department of Public Health on how to protect your lungs from wildfire smoke.