Businesses struggling to survive dealt another blow with smoke-choked skies

Almost like a dream, the entire Bay Area woke up to dark orange skies Wednesday morning, with ash falling to the ground from wildfires miles away.

"It felt like we were living on Mars," said Isha Sheth, a San Francisco resident, "We couldn't figure out what time it was even in the afternoon because it was so dark and orange and red."

"It was apocalyptic," said John Walker of San Francisco "By 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock in the morning it was darker than it was at 7 a.m."

The darkness and orange tinge stretched from the Bay all the way across to the far reaches of East Contra Costa County. Ash falling from the sky covered cars and streets.

"In South San Francisco my friend said she had to hose down her car twice before it got all off," said Beth McLaughlin who says she works at a school in South San Francisco where they had to turn on lights to prevent the teachers from injuring themselves in the dark hallways.

"Given everything else going on in 2020 that we'd be like walking into essentially this orange black like sky hell type of sort of thing. Needless to say, it's been a very bizarre day," said Josh Sigel who was out walking with a mask in San Francisco.

"It was absolutely surreal," said Rory Cox, owner of a personal fitness gym called Yubalance, who was out in San Francisco parks training clients.

"The air didn't smell too bad but there was visible soot everywhere, so your hands get grey and black," said Cox.

For Cox and many business owners, though, it's not the smoke that stings.

The surreal skies are yet another pernicious and unrelenting assault on their livelihoods and the fight to survive. Cox says Wednesday was the first day San Francisco officials relaxed pandemic restrictions and let gym owners conduct business outdoors.

"I would welcome city officials to not only come outside and work out with us but go get a haircut outside, go get a massage outside conduct their own business outside and see how they like it," said Cox.

Restaurants' outdoor dining and parklets were empty. Gilberths Latin Fusion Restaurant in San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood had just finished building their parklet. The owners started it three weeks ago, on the day when lightning strikes sparked a string of wildfires.

"We needed to do something in order you know to stay afloat and retain our business," said Gilberths Cab, chef and co-owner of Gilberths Latin Fusion Restaurant.

They got their permit Tuesday and planned to have the parklet's grand opening on Wednesday. All the hard work turned into more heartbreak.

"This morning I woke up and it's all dark. It's just crazy. It was crazy. I don't understand what else we can do," said Cab.

Gilberths' Latin Fusion restaurant, like many other businesses, has turned to online Gofundme fundraisers to survive.

Every day is a battle, and some business owners don't know how many more dark days and setbacks they'll be able to weather.

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana