Unhealthy Air / Smoke Event

In recent years, the Bay Area has experienced unprecedented fires and dense smoke, which are the result of years of impacts brought on by climate change. The reality is that heavy smoke will be in our future, so we all need to prepare ourselves, our homes, our loved ones, and community for smoke events.

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Date Posted: August 28th, 2020 @ 8:59 AM
Last Updated: June 30th, 2022 @ 12:00 PM

How to PREPARE for Unhealthy Air/Smoke Events

  • Plan to go to a cleaner air location if you are unable to seal your home or if dense smoke occurs during hot weather events and you cannot stay in your home. Heat takes precedent over smoke.
  • Sign up now for emergency alerts and stay informed:
  • Weatherize homes and buildings in preparation for air quality events by replacing or refurbishing old leaky windows and doors; use caulking to seal the openings.
  • Consider purchasing a non-ozone-producing air purifier (HEPA) to create a cleaner air room in your home or consider purchasing a MERV 13 or greater filter for your HVAC system to be used when experiencing a heavy smoke event.
  • Consider upgrading to an HVAC system that allows for both heating and cooling. Be sure it includes a mechanism to switch to “recirculate” to prevent smoke from entering the space.

How to STAY SAFE DURING Unhealthy Air/Smoke Events

  • Individuals with health conditions should talk to their physicians to develop a personal plan for dealing with smoke.
  • Elderly persons, pregnant individuals, children, and individuals with respiratory illnesses are particularly susceptible to elevated air pollution levels and should take extra precautions to avoid exposure.
  • Those with heart or lung disease, older adults, pregnant individuals, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion, and should either reschedule outdoor activities or move them to another location.
  • Elevated particulate matter in the air can trigger wheezing in those who suffer from asthma, emphysema, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), or other respiratory conditions.
  • Asthmatics should follow their asthma management plan.
  • Keep up to two weeks’ worth of extra medication on hand. Be ready with plans to treat asthma or diabetes when there is smoke.
  • Individuals should contact their physician if they have cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms believed to be caused by smoke. Concerned individuals should consult their physician for personalized recommendations.

How to STAY SAFE DURING a Wildfire Smoke Event

  • Shelter in place. Staying indoors with windows and doors closed, where air quality is better, is the best way to protect your health. During high heat and heavy smoke events, keep indoor air cool or visit an air-cooling center.
  • Set air conditioning units and car vent systems to re-circulate to prevent outside air from moving inside.
  • Smoke can irritate the eyes and airways, causing cough, a dry scratchy throat, runny nose, trouble breathing, and irritated sinuses. Stay hydrated by drinking water during heavy smoke events.
  • Avoid adding additional air pollution by curtailing activities, such as wood burning, lawn mowing, leaf blowing, driving, barbecuing, smoking, or other dust-producing activities. Avoid using hairspray and painting indoors. If possible, use the stove fan when cooking.
  • Leave the affected area if possible, for the duration of the heavy smoke event.

Information on ongoing air quality in the area can be found on the Air District website, http://baaqmd.gov, and residents are encouraged to visit http://acphd.org/air-quality.aspx for health and safety tips.

Emergency Respite Centers

Emergency Respite Centers provide indoor spaces with cleaner air and cooler temperatures. They are open to anyone who is seeking respite from high temperatures or poor air quality, especially our unsheltered neighbors. The City of Oakland will open Emergency Respite Centers when:

  • The EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI) reaches “very unhealthy” levels of AQI 200 or above (see AirNow.gov)
  • The National Weather Service forecasts temperatures of 95 degrees or more for two days in a row, or
  • The outdoor air temperature reaches 100 degrees.

Emergency Respite Centers are anticipated to be open at the following locations:

  • North Oakland Senior Center, 5714 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way
  • César E. Chávez Branch of the Oakland Public Library, 3301 East 12th Street, #271
  • City Hall, 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza
  • 81st Avenue Library, 1021 81st Avenue

Optional Cooling Center Locations:

Library Hours

  • Asian Branch Library
  • Dimond Library
  • Piedmont Library
  • Brookfield Library
  • Eastmont Library
  • Rainbow Recreation Center
  • Redwood Recreation Center

Partial A/C for additional cooling centers:

  • Rockridge (meeting room, teen zone)
  • 81st (meeting room, computer lab)

Cleaner air centers:

  • 81st Ave Library
  • North Oakland Senior Center
  • Oakland City Hall
  • Cesar Chavez Library

These locations are subject to change; check back here to confirm, or subscribe to AC Alerts to receive a phone call, text message, or email when Emergency Respite Centers are open. Libraries are open to the public. Click here for current hours of operation.

Additional Resources