Berkeley air quality safe despite wildfire in Yolo County

David Rodriguez/Staff

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Berkeley continues to have healthy air quality, despite the County Fire spreading ashes and smoke in the Bay Area throughout the weekend.

In Berkeley, many have observed ash particulates on their cars and detected smoke in the sky, but the air quality in Berkeley remains a 23 on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index, or AQI, indicating that the County Fire has not significantly affected the atmosphere in Berkeley.

“Even though there was ash, those were heavier particles that were too big to be breathed in,” said John Balmes, UC Berkeley professor of environmental health sciences. “The finer particles which caused the health problems — actually, we were being protected from those because of the fog yesterday.”

In Yolo County, however, the County Fire has raised the air quality to a moderate AQI of 79, as of press time, leaving people with asthma and other respiratory conditions susceptible to harm. Overall, the County Fire has had only a moderate effect on air quality, compared to the North Bay wildfires in October 2017, during which Berkeley’s AQI reached 137.

Balmes advocated that those with pre-existing respiratory issues such as asthma stay away from excessive outdoor physical exercise. He advised that Berkeley residents turn off ventilation to stop the outside air from entering an enclosed space if they feel the air has become polluted. Balmes added that in the worst case, people can wear N95 masks to avoid inhaling smaller dust or ash particles.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention spokesperson Gabe Lauderdale, only 3 percent of the County Fire has been contained, but fire departments throughout the state have been called to help.

The Berkeley Fire Department, or BFD, has also joined other California fire departments in trying to contain this fire. According to BFD spokesperson Keith May, BFD sent a group of firefighters to help put out the County Fire on July 2.

The County Fire came at an unusual time, according to Lauderdale.

“We typically expect to see that type of fire behavior later on in the year, typically around August, September and October,” Lauderdale said.

May said Berkeley is also considerably vulnerable to wildfires. Since Berkeley houses sit right next to large expanses of dry land, a spark from any object can create a wildfire that may spread quickly, according to May.

If a fire does occur, BFD plans on evacuating residents to ensure their safety before focusing on fighting the fire itself, similar to how firefighters in Yolo County evacuated residents during the County Fire.

“We prioritize life first, and then we work on fighting the fire,” May said.

Contact Anisa Kundu at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anisa_kundu.