City, campus inspect damage after power outages, wildfire conditions, poor air quality

Kaitlan Tseng/Senior Staff

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On Monday, about 21,000 Berkeley residents were impacted by a scheduled PG&E power outage, UC Berkeley canceled classes for Monday and the air quality index, or AQI, reached an “unhealthy” level at its peak.

In an effort to reduce fire risks due to extreme winds and heavy fire danger conditions, PG&E enacted what was estimated to be a 48-hour Public Safety Power Shutoff, or PSPS, Saturday about 5 p.m. As of press time, UC Berkeley operations are scheduled to resume Tuesday, according to a campuswide email from Vice Chancellor Marc Fisher.

PG&E announced midday Monday that the PSPS would be extended until Friday, but the city’s Twitter announced about 6:40 p.m. that it does not anticipate this PSPS to affect Berkeley.

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko said it typically takes two to five days for PG&E to restore power and the city may also need to prepare for potential wildfire evacuations.

In the meantime, the city will continue to keep increased levels of police, fire and civilian staff working 24-hour shifts to respond to any events caused by loss of electricity, heavy winds and fire danger. Chakko added that the Old City Hall will open at 6 p.m. as a shelter for homeless populations.

Over the past two days, Chakko said city staff have been reaching out by phone and in person to those who are dependent on electricity for medical purposes in order to assess their needs.

Residents can charge devices and get information at Berkeley Public Library branches during business hours in power shutoffs, according to District 7 City Councilmember Rigel Robinson.

More immediate damage has come from high winds than from smoke and the PSPS, Robinson added.

“This creates a severe fire risk, as trees that down power lines can quickly spark,” Robinson said in an email. “I’m incredibly thankful to the Berkeley first responders and staff for ensuring that these situations don’t result in fires.”

Robinson added that the Berkeley Fire Department and city staff are responding to several reports of tree damage and that residents may report fallen trees by calling 311.

The East Bay Regional Park District has closed its parks and trails until 9 a.m. Tuesday, according to East Bay Regional Park District public information officer Dave Mason. The parks have seen downed power lines, fallen trees and debris that must be cleared in order to make the parks safe, Mason added.

In addition to high winds, the city’s air quality index, or AQI, exceeded 150 as of 9 a.m. Monday —  a level deemed “unhealthy”’ by the National Weather Service, or NWS. A few hours later, however, the AQI dropped to 121, which is below the “unhealthy” level. As of press time, the AQI is at a “moderate” level of 64.

In the past, campus administrators considered canceling classes when the campus AQI hits 200 — the number at which it is recommended people limit time outdoors. In November 2018, campus classes were canceled when the AQI exceeded 200.

ASUC President Amma Sarkodee-Adoo, External Affairs Vice President Varsha Sarveshwar, as well as ASUC Senators Derek Imai and Sylvia Targ, however, recently recommended that campus cancel classes when AQI hits 150, which is when physical exertion is inadvisable.

According to Chakko, the city recommends staying indoors rather than going outside to get a mask. When the AQI is more than 150, city staff members distribute masks to the homeless.

The NWS AQI forecast website is predicting that tomorrow’s AQI will be 102 as of press time.  According to NWS forecaster Steve Anderson, air quality in the Bay Area is expected to continue to worsen as winds push smoke into the area until noon tomorrow.

“It’ll still be hazy, but not as smoky as today,” Anderson said. “Tonight could be the worst night as the winds die down and the smoke settles in.”

Contact The Daily Californian News Staff at [email protected].