Although the sun had risen, it remained ominously dark in the American cities of San Francisco and San Jose on California’s west coast on Wednesday morning. For two days, only an orange glow could be seen on the horizon from the forest fires raging in the hills surrounding the cities. Press spoke to the thirty-year-old Dutch Cherry Cheung, who is experiencing the situation up close.
‘They are not used to this in San Francisco either’
Cheung lives in Fremont, a city in the San Francisco Bay Area, an agglomeration of cities around the San Francisco Bay, where many technology companies are located. About a thirty-minute drive from her home, a major forest fire has been raging for days, one of dozens currently ravaging the US west coast.
“Three weeks ago we had a heat wave with very high temperatures, which is also very exceptional here. After that there was a lot of lightning and since two weeks there has been a fire,” said Cheung. In the western part of the state of California, which also includes San Francisco, the mercury reached 42 degrees last weekend. In Death Valley, inland California, a record temperature of 54.4 degrees was already measured on August 16.
As the ash from the wildfires reflects sunlight, a dark red glow lingers over San Francisco. “At first I didn’t notice much, but on Wednesday morning I was in bed thinking: I don’t need to wake up yet, it’s still the middle of the night. But it was already 10:00 am and still dark”, says Cheung.
“Normally the sky is blue here for eleven months of the year and now it was bright orange all day long. That was very strange and scary to see”, the Dutchman continues. According to Cheung, everyone seemed to be barbecuing outside. “The air was very dirty, a kind of warm mist. I had to cough because of the particles that got into my lungs.”
The sky in Fremont, California, turned orange for two days. “It seemed as if there was a filter in front of the sun”. (Photo: Press/Cherry Cheung)
That the air polluted with ash can be dangerous to health is confirmed by the California weather service. He already warned last weekend to stay indoors as much as possible. At the time of writing, the air quality in most places along the west coast is so bad that the government organization that monitors it makes mention of an ‘unhealthy’ situation.
“I came to live here for love last September and married an American man. According to him, the wildfires are really from the last five years. When he was little he never heard about wildfires and he grew up here.”
Forest fires in California have been on the rise in recent years. According to The Atlantic is the area that burns annually five times as much as in the 1970s. Twelve of the fifteen largest California fires ever recorded place since 2000. The vast majority of forests are managed by the federal government, which puts the California government out of the game. The Democratic governor has since joined the White House knocked on for financial support and has also asked Canada and Australia (which itself had to deal with severe fires last year) for help.
Cheung: “Normally it is about 25 to 28 degrees now due to the wind from the sea. The population is concerned.” Despite the increasing number of fires and the current poor air quality, Cheung and her husband are not yet considering moving. “We work at home now and are still young and healthy. It might be different if you have children. That could be a factor in moving to a place with better air.”