Smoke layer from California wildfires causes orange skies in Berkeley

Photo of smoke / smokey campus
Celine Bellegarda/Staff
The combination of offshore winds and wildfires occurring mostly in Mendocino County and Plumas County caused the skies in Berkeley to turn orange. The smoke is expected to decrease as firefighters begin to contain the fires.

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Berkeley residents woke up Wednesday to orange-red-hued skies resulting from wildfires around the state and offshore winds that began Monday night.

A thick layer of smoke is acting as a filter on the sun and only allowing orange and red light through, according to Drew Peterson, National Weather Service meteorologist. The color of light people see varies by location, depending on the sun’s angle and how thick the smoke above is.

Despite the abnormal skies, the air quality index, or AQI, in Berkeley was in the moderate range at 87, as of press time, according to AirNow. This is because smoke from the wildfires is suspended at a high elevation, Peterson said.

“We are seeing some of the heaviest particulates from the smoke layer falling to the surface,” Peterson said. “People are seeing ash but not smelling smoke.”

While AQI readings have been below the unhealthy range, many sensors may not be measuring particulate matter as large as ash, Peterson said. He added that breathing in ash is not healthy and people should stay indoors.

A large number of wildfires “flared up,” with offshore winds fanning them, Peterson said. Smoke in the Bay Area is primarily coming from the August Complex and North Complex fires in Mendocino County and Plumas County, respectively.

Peterson said he does not know how long these conditions will last, and the smoke will reduce as firefighters begin to contain fires that are currently burning uncontrolled.

“Usually, when a new fire starts, the focus is preventing loss of life and property,” Peterson said. “They’re mainly making sure everyone gets evacuated, and then they’ll proceed with making sure it doesn’t spread.”

In a campuswide email, University Health Services medical director Anna Harte and executive director of campus environment, health and safety Patrick Goff said the red haze is expected to last for several days, and the air quality in Berkeley may worsen.

UC Berkeley senior Alexander Khazatsky said it was scary to wake up to red skies in Berkeley, adding that it shows how important it is to act on climate change.

According to Khazatsky, online classes have made the experience more isolating, since normally, students would be talking about this while on campus.

“It’s kind of saddening,” Khazatsky said. “Seeing it makes it real that a lot of people are going through hardship right now.”

Maya Akkaraju is a deputy news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maya_akkaraju.

A previous version of this article misquoted Alexander Khazatsky as saying, “Seeing it makes it real that a lot of people are going through hard s— right now.” In fact, Khazatsky said, “Seeing it makes it real that a lot of people are going through hardship right now.”