A massive cloud of smoke has been lingering over San Francisco for several days, generated by the nearby Camp Fire that has burned vast tracts of land northeast of the city. Health officials have issued air quality warnings and face masks are flying off the shelves, as residents try to carry on under the shadow of the nearby catastrophe.
San Francisco’s air is normally clean and free of ozone and particles, but the latest air quality readings show it’s on par with pollution-stricken regions such as Kolkata, India, or the suburbs around Beijing, China.
Health officials say the air remains in the unhealthy “red” zone on the air quality index. They recommend people avoid strenuous activity as much as possible, especially those who are more at risk, such as older adults, children, teens and people with heart or lung disease. Officials recommend these at-risk individuals stay indoors as much as possible.
“Smoke from the fire continues to blanket all nine counties of the Bay Area,” said Jack Broadbent, head of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, in a statement.
The district is asking residents to avoid burning wood or any other solid fuel until at least Friday.
“Any additional smoke from Bay Area chimneys could push the region into an even higher unhealthy air quality level, which puts us all in jeopardy,” Broadbent said.
San Francisco has been under a cloud of smoke since Thursday, when the fast-moving Camp Fire wiped out the town of Paradise to the northeast. The town of 27,000 is approximately 290 kilometres (180 miles) northeast of San Francisco.
Wildfires raging across the state have burned more than 7,000 buildings and scorched more than 840 square kilometres (325 square miles), leaving at least 42 dead and hundreds unaccounted for.
WATCH BELOW: Helicopters drop water on wildfire beside motorists stuck in traffic
San Francisco has offered several public libraries and museums as clean-air refuges, and activists and health officials have been handing out face masks to the city’s homeless. Most school districts in the Bay Area cancelled classes on Tuesday due to the smoke.
The district recommends using an N95 mask when going outdoors. These masks can filter out approximately 95 per cent of the particulate matter in the air, but only if they make a tight seal on the face. They’re also not suitable for men with beards or young children, the district says.
“If air quality is unhealthy in your area, the first and best option is to stay indoors with your windows and doors closed,” the organization says.
Many hardware stores have reportedly sold out of N95 masks amid the wildfire haze, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Satellite footage from Thursday shows how smoke from the Camp Fire rapidly billowed westward on the wind, blanketing the Bay Area in a haze.
Officials say San Francisco will be under an air quality warning until at least Friday.
WATCH: Drone footage shows us an eerie, burned out Paradise, CA