Berkeley community events took a back seat, but campus classes continued as residents faced unhealthy air from the Camp Fire that started Thursday in Butte County.
The air quality index, or AQI, for Berkeley has wavered near 160 for the past few days, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, or BAAQMD. This places the air in Berkeley in the “unhealthy” region of the AQI key, which was developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Because of poor air quality, organizers announced the cancellation of the annual Biofreeze Berkeley Half Marathon as well as the planned 10K, 5K and 1K races. The event organizers are working with the city of Berkeley to reschedule the races for February or March 2019, according to the half-marathon’s website.
And because of a mandatory “Winter Spare the Air Alert” — a notice that prohibits the burning of wood in the Bay Area — the UC Rally Committee called off the bonfire rally traditionally held the evening before the Big Game against Stanford. According to Ryan Dana, chair of the UC Rally Committee, the group also felt it would be “insensitive” to light a bonfire this year because of the destructive wildfires in California. Instead, the group will host a pyrotechnics rally.
As a result of the poor air quality from the Camp Fire, California universities such as UC Davis canceled Tuesday classes; Sacramento State University went as far as closing its entire campus Tuesday and Wednesday. Measurements indicated that the AQIs exceeded 170 for both cities, greater levels on average than those seen in Berkeley on Tuesday.
“Safety is always a key consideration in determining whether to cancel classes,” said campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore in an email. “While students will spend some time walking to and from classes, most classes are held indoors and consequently are not increasing exposure.”
Gilmore added that campus leadership, therefore, decided not to cancel classes but advised community members, in a message sent Friday, to limit their outdoor activity. Gilmore added that faculty members are encouraged to accommodate students who may need to miss class or work because of health risks.
While the Tang Center and the BAAQMD caution that most masks provide minimal protection from poor air, several Berkeley stores sold out of N95 masks as early as Thursday. Niharika Seelam, assistant manager for the CVS located on Shattuck Avenue, said the store ran out of masks Friday morning but expects to have some in stock by Wednesday.
“We’re doing the best that we can to be able to provide people the resources they need,” said Anne Carpenter, co-owner of the Ace Hardware on Milvia Street, adding that the store has some N95 masks still in stock. “My brother went to the warehouse in Sacramento — went to pick up a lot of things we need.”
Campus sophomore Grace Balino stated that she had been unable to get a mask because she was “in a rush” and said she spent most of Friday indoors because of work. Balino added that she had been experiencing headaches from the poor air quality and expressed her hope that the Tang Center would provide adequate resources for the campus community.
Tang Center spokesperson Tami Cate issued a health advisory through the University Health Services website Friday. The advisory urges the public to stay indoors and monitor the air quality through the BAAQMD website.
“For most people, the conditions in the Bay Area remain unpleasant rather than dangerous,” the health advisory said. “However, elderly persons, children, and individuals with respiratory illnesses are particularly susceptible to elevated air pollution levels and should take extra precautions to avoid exposure.”