Golden Gate Bridge in Smoke Friday

Horrific Air Quality in San Francisco


When I landed in San Francisco mid-week before last, I wasn’t paying much attention. I try to zone out on the plane: listen to music, watch Netflix, or just sleep. I find that makes the long flight seem shorter. I was in “the zone.”

Unexpectedly, the cabin filled with the acrid smell of smoke, and I remembered the California fires were raging, still uncontrolled.

The Lyft ride from the airport was unpleasant. I literally could not see the opposite side of the bay: no Hayward, no Oakland, no Berkeley. Just throat-irritating smoke… When we got to the Bay Bridge, I couldn’t even see Treasure Island. The smoke was this extremely thick, white-gray soup with a tinge of brown. Needless to say, my allergies hated it! That was on Wednesday.


On Thursday the air quality was worse! I had to drive over to Corte Madera. On the way back, I stopped at Fort Baker to take a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge. This is one of our favorite places. We have photographed the bridge from this location probably hundreds of times. You could barely see the south tower in the smokey distance. The sun was beaming through onto the water.

These are un-retouched photos exactly as they were captured by my iPhone X.

Golden Gate Bridge in Smoke Thursday
Golden Gate Bridge in Smoke Thursday

On Friday, I had to go back to Corte Madera. I did the very same thing. I stopped by the same location to take a photo of the bridge. The air quality on Friday was  horribly worse. You couldn’t see the south tower at all. In the photo below, I zoomed in a good bit.

Golden Gate Bridge in Smoke Friday
Golden Gate Bridge in Smoke Friday

Every day the air quality was getting worse. The number of people out and about was probably down by 80%. I would guess that about 5% of them wore some sort of mask around their nose and mouth. I ordered some, but they are in short supply and will not arrive for 2 weeks!


By Monday, the day I went to Crissey Field while the apartment was being cleaned, I could only see a fraction of the Bay Bridge, not even half way.1 When I arrived at Crissey Field, which typically has a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, I couldn’t see the bridge at all, literally not at all.

In an effort to mitigate the smell and presence of smoke in our building, the building engineers turn off the ventilation systems. Still, you could smell and see the smoke in the building. My allergies were killing me.

I ordered an air purifier that Tools and Toys has consistently given their top rating to: the Coway AP-1512HH Mighty Air Purifier. It has a 4-stage filtration process: a pre-filter, odor filter, true HEPA filter, and a bipolar ionizer to reduce airborne odors and pollutants. I am happy to say that it works. It works very, very well. Within a half hour the apartment no longer smelled of smoke, my eyes and throat stopped burning.

I’ve been staying inside, and I’m delighted to report that my allergies are even noticeably better. Instead of my super long composite sneeze of 20 sneezes combined into one huge giganormous sneeze that almost causes me to explode, I now have my series of about a dozen sneezes in rapid succession like I did years ago, like my father and his mother used to do when they were living. Ahhh. The small blessings in life.


And then, last Wednesday, the rains came. It rained all day–a steady, cleansing rain. Thank goodness for the rain. Now the air is clean and smoke-free. It took about a day-and-a-half to get the smell of smoke out of the building itself.

One final observation

The media out here is reporting something I had not really paid much attention to, something they are calling “an east coast bias.” I had never thought about it, but I have to say I think they are correct. Had this horrible weather condition, the unbreathable toxic air, literally the worst air quality on earth, happened on the east coast, the news media would have made wall-to-wall, moment-by-moment, ceaseless news coverage of it just as they do when there east coast has a hurricane.

Yet, nearly 100 people are known to have been killed by the fires, and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds are still missing. But the news outlets didn’t cover this horrific event in their typical “east coast tragedy” way at all: an east coast news bias. The west coast is just an aside. Shame on them.

A link to the Chronicle’s Fire Tracker.

  1. I couldn’t get a photo because I was driving.