SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A Spare the Air Alert is in effect and has been extended through Saturday because of smoke coming into the region from wildfires further north in California and Oregon.
At a virtual news conference, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District said we can expect unhealthy air quality for sensitive groups.
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Meteorologist Sandhya Patel says that there will start to be an improvement in the air quality this weekend.
Experts say if you need to, stay indoors and keep your windows closed if possible or seek out a cooling center.
Anyone who smells smoke is advised to stay inside with windows and doors closed and to set air conditioning units and car vent systems to re-circulate to stop outside air from coming inside, according to the air district.
Stanford University infectious disease researcher and physician Dr. Abraar Karan said N-95 masks can help.
"These will prevent and reduce the amount of these small fine particles that you're inhaling, and this will make it so that it's less likely you get these symptoms, acute symptoms, almost allergy-like, or just trouble breathing and in the long term," Dr. Karan said. "The less we are inhaling this during these big fires, the better it will be for us."
In fact, Dr. Karan said tools we use to protect us from COVID-19 can help protect us from wildfire smoke.
"We know that with the changing environment, with an increase in these extreme weather-related events, utilizing the things that we learned from COVID, like using at-home air purifiers, for instance, is something that can be applied even to outdoor air events like big wildfires where the smoke is coming into your house," Dr. Karan said.
He recommends using air purifiers and an indoor air quality monitor.
In San Francisco's North Beach at Cole Hardware Store, people were been stopping in and buying face masks Tuesday.
"I've had a couple come in but I expect more to come in shortly," said Store employee Frank O'Connell.
People all around the Bay Area have been seeing, smelling, and feeling the smoke.
On Tuesday, you could hardly see the Bay Bridge and from the port of Oakland, it was tough to see the San Francisco skyline.
"It's really bad. Usually, you can see East Bay," said Shruy Sethi of San Francisco.
"It's very smoky. It smells like a campfire," said Sarah Ryherd, another San Francisco resident.
Others said they could feel it in their throat and began wearing masks.
In the East Bay, some high schools canceled sports practices because of the bad air quality.
But Wednesday morning others down the Peninsula were practicing.
"It's definitely noticeable but it's not too bad," said Sacred Heart Prep student Timmy Donatelli, who practiced lacrosse with teammates in Palo Alto Wednesday morning. "I think last year, the fires were a lot worse but it's not too bad, especially in the morning."
"It's been pretty crazy," said teammate Blake Hetherington. "I mean, I had a workout yesterday. I walked outside and the smoke was everywhere. And you could really tell that it was in the air and you can definitely tell it's hurting our environment right now. So yeah, not good."
In the South Bay, the lingering effects canceled some sports practices but didn't stop everyone from spending time outside.
Hundreds of people are enjoying Oktoberfest in downtown Redwood City tonight.
The five-day event runs through Sunday even in spite of how smoky it is outside.
"We have a couple of people in masks. But everyone seems pretty comfortable," said organizer Brandon Council.
A few miles away, at Red Morton Park, also in Redwood City, soccer practice was canceled for Austin Woodworth's 7-year-old daughter.
Woodworth says the smoke seemed worse on Tuesday.
Pickleball player Ben Phillippi decided to take the extra step and mask up during his match. The smoke from Tuesday really got to him.
"It was super hazy. It was like yellow. But today, it wasn't quite as bad. Maybe because I had the mask on," said Phillippi.
Al Contreras says his son and 100 other kids with the Redwood City 49ers are going through regular practice this Wednesday night despite the smoky skies.
Wednesday morning, the smoke created a golden hue in Palo Alto. The horizon - as expected - was filled with smoke.
In San Jose, you could see the haze across the skies - but there were no significant delays for flights.
In the East Bay, schools and businesses are making adjustments amid poor air quality conditions.
The Lake School, a preschool near Oakland's Lake Merritt, made the difficult choice to close early, calling for the early pickup of around 40 kids.
"And they were only able to play for about two hours before we had to send them home early," Stephanie Long, Interim Head of School at The Lake School said.
This happened when the Air Quality Index hit 150.
"When we're inside the classrooms, we like ventilation with all of the windows open to stop the spread of illness, when we have this bad air quality, we have to have everything shut down, and air filters running, but when it reaches the point of red, it's do we stay inside and maybe pass illnesses or do we try to have early pickups and really just keep everyone safe?" Long said.
Minutes away, Children's Fairyland, making a similar decision to close its gates early at 1 p.m.
Up until that point, they were offering masks to guests as they entered.
"With the wind, we're seeing that the smell hasn't stayed so stagnant but we can see it in the air, it's very thick with the clouds," Summer Cunningham, a Fairyland volunteer said.
Cunningham said she kept her mask on the whole time.
"We're both really sensitive to the smell, I currently can get headaches, Maddie here has a hard time with breathing, it definitely provides a lot of discomfort," she said.
Meanwhile, the Oakland Unified School District is instituting its poor air quality day protocols.
"We've been informing our staff to keep windows closed in classrooms, keep their air filters on high and to make sure that they are keeping anyone who is really sensitive to air pollution, people maybe with asthma or other things, inside," John Sasaki, a spokesperson for OUSD said.
Sasaki says if the air quality index reaches 151 or higher, all activities will be moved indoors.
But OUSD tries to avoid canceling school altogether.
"And when we have them in school, we know we can keep them inside, they won't be going outside to play, they won't be going outside to hangout with friends or anything like that," he said. "And so we know that if they're at school, they're a bit more protected, at least in certain circumstances than they might be if they were elsewhere, so we're very hesitant to actually cancel school."
High School football continues in Danville as air quality improves
San Ramon Valley High School's homecoming parade through downtown Danville is annual tradition.
"We always have the big rally and big parade downtown. The floats go through, (with) the various town dignitaries. It is a lot of fun," explains Aaron Becker, head football coach at San Ramon Valley High School.
Proud parents and excited players didn't seem to be too concerned with the weather, in particular the smoke from wildfires that has impacted Bay Area air quality most of the week.
The San Ramon Valley Unified School District says it is monitoring air quality, and cleared the teams to play.
Coach Becker says there aren't too many concerns for Friday night's game. "No, we have been okay all week. And all signs seem to point towards the same direction right now," he says.
Despite the excitement on the ground, there is still some lingering haze around Mount Diablo and parts of the valley below.
"When you've got a complex of fires burning, as we do right now in Northern California and Southern Oregon, somebody, somewhere is going to be down stream and getting a lot of smoke. And right now, we are the unlucky ones," says Professor Alison Bridger, with the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at San Jose State University.
She says haze from wildfires is not uncommon this time of year. She adds that air quality has improved over the past week. But she still recommends, even if you don't smell smoke, to still take precautions.
"The smoke is collection of tiny particulars. And those can get into your lungs. And in the right concentration on the wrong day and on the wrong time, they could potentially do some damage," says Professor Bridger.
Keyvan Reshidi and Gabriel Carvar have been hiking almost every morning in the hills of Danville, and seem unfazed by the haze.
"I guess until you smell something or notice it, you don't really think about it," says Reshidi.
"Besides the visibility, it felt pretty good," says Carvar, adding that he thinks air quality has improved over the past few days. "I have been hiking almost every day with the weather. I can't really tell the difference. Maybe it seems a bit harder, but besides that, all good."
Professor Bridger says strong winds up in Oregon will likely move the smoke north, which should bring clear skies to the Bay Area by Sunday.
ABC7 News reporters Anser Hassan, Lena Howland, Suzanne Phan, Gloria Rodriguez, Stephanie Sierra and Leslie Brinkley contributed to this article.
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