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Published October 18th, 2017
Smoke puts a chokehold on Lamorinda
The evening sky over Lamorinda Oct. 12 filled with smoke from the North Bay wildfires. Photo Andy Scheck

The worst air quality ever recorded in many parts of the Bay Area descended upon Lamorinda the week of Oct. 9 with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District reporting Very Unhealthy air caused by smoke from the massive wildfires in the North Bay.
The amount of air pollution was unprecedented throughout the Bay Area, according to Ralph Borrmann of the air quality district. With active wildfires and changing wind patterns, the poor air quality lingered in Lamorinda, with reports of local hardware stores quickly selling out of masks.
However, Victoria Ballabares of Contra Costa Health Services advised that masks provide little protection. "People feel safe with masks, but we do not recommend them because they do not stop the particulate matter from the smoke from those fires," she said. "Keep indoors and keep outside air outside."
All schools in the Acalanes, Moraga, Orinda and Lafayette school districts remained open but curtailed outdoor activities. Homecoming games were canceled. The Orinda Library closed. The air quality district asked residents to avoid adding additional air pollution by curtailing air polluting activities such as wood burning, driving, barbecuing, lawn mowing and leaf blowing.
Pets were included in the smoke advisories. "Especially small pets," said Capt. Lisa Martinez of the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District. "Just like small people, they should stay inside and not be exposed."
Firefighters spend much of their working life in smoky conditions, but the unhealthy air impacted even them. "I've never seen anything like it," said Moraga-Orinda Fire District firefighter Mark DeWeese, an assistant football coach with the Campolindo High School junior varsity. "I took my 4-month-old son to football practice but we had to go inside the gym. School would not allow us to play outside."
DeWeese agreed that wearing a mask was not helpful but he said he did not do things much differently, except maybe stay inside more. "Instead of running around the Lafayette Reservoir, maybe I'll do my work on the 24 Hour Fitness treadmill," he said.
Unlike the September hurricanes that made news in Texas and the southeast, the natural disasters that strike the Bay Area offer no warnings. Wildfires and earthquakes come without notice, and when they do, those in danger must act quickly. Access to an emergency notification system behooves Lamorinda residents.
Nixle is a national mass emergency notification provider. Text your zip code to 888777 for instant messages via phone, email and web from government agencies.
Designed by a fire chief of the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District, Pulse Point is a mobile phone app that allows you to receive alerts on fire department responses and emergency medical service calls. You can even listen to the live public audio safety feeds.
The Contra Costa County Community Warning System alerts residents and businesses that are in the crosshairs of an emergency with a message that includes basic information about the incident and what specific actions are necessary to protect your life and health. Register at the Community Warning System website for notifications on your mobile phone.
Yes, the North Bay fire could happen in Lamorinda. ConFire Chief Jeff Carman explained to his advisory fire commission the topographical similarities between Santa Rosa and cities in his district, and the chief has often said that Lafayette, with its proximity to a virtual urban forest, concerns him more than any other area of his jurisdiction.
This time, it was only smoke.

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