The Fires of Northern California
I am crying, literally and figuratively. I landed in the Bay Area, stepped outside of the airport and my eyes began to tear immediately. Driving over the bridge, I couldn’t see more than a couple of cars in front of me. The typical expansive view from my Marin County home is nonexistent. Within hours, my throat has swelled, my voice scratchy, my nostrils burning, my eyes aggravated, my head aching. This tragedy is so much worse than anyone ever imagined — and we are the blessed ones.
The air quality in my hometown of Mill Valley is currently at 487 (typically in the 20s!! Out of a possible 500 scale!!). San Francisco is at 385, ranked the worst in the world (yes, worse than the most polluted global cities in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mongolia, per one of the many apps I have been monitoring for days now). Breathing this air is equivalent to smoking multiple packs of cigarettes a day, exacerbating asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, chronic disease, even heart failure.
Schools are closed. Universities are closed. Offices are closed. Events are canceled. Outdoor activities are canceled. Sports are canceled. Governments, cities and health departments have issued warnings to stay indoors, monitor air quality, change filters and avoid time outside — for everyone, not only the more vulnerable populations of children, elderly and those with heart or lung disease or respiratory infections, for whom even short term exposure is exceedingly dangerous.
I saw every other driver on the road wearing a mask in their cars, crossing guards with masks, people waiting at the bus stop with masks, even grocery shoppers with masks indoors. Smoke mask searches are at the highest level in Google’s history and most local stores have sold out of the N95 masks needed to block toxic particulates.
We are two hours south of the blazing wildfires and facing unparalleled, ongoing health risks. But we have our lives — and for that I am tremendously grateful. 63 people have died from the Northern California fire in and around the now leveled town of Paradise. 631 remain unaccounted for with most feared dead, as brave firefighters and first responders continue to battle flames on the front lines of the Camp Fire, as well as the still-raging Woolsey and Hill Fires in the southern part of the state.
Stay vigilant, stay away, stay inside, stay safe.