The morning of July 1, 2018 our Alamo Square apartment in San Francisco, CA was awash with an orange light which seemed to intensify as the morning progressed. The air, too, seemed unusually still inside our apartment as if it was being depressurized.
I logged into my NextDoor account and asked people to post pictures of the views out of their apartments. The comments on the thread seemed to indicate a general sense of unease about this, yet there were plenty that seemed to think it was pretty normal, considering there were fires up north, and the City always seems to have some kind of low air quality or strange light when there are fires in surrounding areas:
Here is the photo outside my apartment:
Some neighbors jumped in to add their photos and comments as well:
Edu R. of West Nopa writes, “Weird.”
Katrina M. of NOPA writes, “So eerie.”
Jeanine K. of West Nopa writes “I thought about the fire, but the sky was grey not orange during the last fires.”
Justin M. of West Nopa writes, “This was the sky above my apartment this morning. Very unsettling.”
There were a few people that seemed to echo the sentiment of AJ D. of Alamo Square: “It is from the fires, the sky looked like this in 1991 during the oakland hills fire. Also an air quality alert has been issued due to the fires.”
Greg D. of West Lower Pacific Heights says, “Our new normal with Climate amplifying – Not causing – droughts, fires and floods.”
Within about an hour or so of first seeing the orange light, the Department of Emergency Management made the following statement on NextDoor: “Advisory: San Francisco Air Quality is Yellow due to fires in the Lake and Yolo counties. People with heart/lung disease, older adults, and children should consider reducing prolonged/heavy exertion. Residents may notice a brown tint in the sky due to the fires as well.”
Once the Dept. of Emergency Management had made their statement, like clockwork every mainstream news outlet confirmed the strange orange hue in the air was due to the fires. There were an innumerable amount of mainstream articles that were published but here are just a few:
It’s important to note that this is not the height of fire season. Fire season typically happens from June to November. Furthermore, the night before on June 30, we noticed a thick fog rolling fast up our neighborhood street, which usually indicates cooler, wetter climates. What made the July 1 experience so unusual was the combination of smoke and fog.
For those that may not understand how the weather conditions of the Bay Area work, warm air from the Valley meets the colder air over the ocean, thus San Francisco becomes encased in fog. Hot weather in the Valley pulls the cold air from the ocean through the Bay and up through the Sacramento Delta. As the cold air and hot air mix, you get fog. The fog travels up the Delta to cool the Central Valley. This is a typical cycle every few days. So, San Francisco will typically have 3 foggy days and 2 sunny days.
The very height of fire season is almost always September and October and we have clear skies, without fog. The City, which is usually cooler through the year has uncharacteristically hot days in September and October. So, the timing of this and the fast, thick cloud of fog we saw rolling up our street on the evening of June 30 was unusual. Let me just put it this way: we have been in San Francisco for 30 years. Fog is normal and to be expected. This fog rolling in at such a high velocity was unusual enough to make us notice it.
My personal experience in the past with San Francisco being affected by surrounding fires is that the sky is grey and the air and ground do take on a brown or orange tint. This is because sunlight is being filtered through the heavy smoke in the air. What we saw on July 1 was a very orange sky, and orange air as if someone had sprayed everything down in orange.
Furthermore, at the height of fire season the air will have a stale, smoky odor that doesn’t die off right away. Sometimes it can take days for everything to clear out. It can become difficult to breathe and it’s a general, heavy unpleasant dirty feeling in the air.
However, on July 1, after a certain time, the air went from being still to very very windy as the day progressed and by 3pm, the entire sky and air were clear as if nothing had happened. While we were encased in orange, there was no odor in the air and no heaviness. It was literally as if someone had just flipped a switch in the early morning and turned the air and sky an orange color and then flipped it back to normal a few hours later.