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Massive smoke clouds, thick air darken western US skies

People from San Francisco to Seattle woke Wednesday to hazy clouds of smoke lingering in the air, darkening the sky to an eerie orange glow that kept street lights illuminated into midday, all thanks to dozens of wildfires throughout the West.

“It’s after 9 a.m. and there’s still no sign of the sun,” the California Highway Patrol’s Golden Gate division tweeted, urging drivers to turn on their headlights and slow down.

Social media was filled with photos of the unusual sky and many people complained their cellphone cameras weren’t accurately capturing the golden hues.

Despite the foreboding skies, there was little scent of smoke and the air quality index did not reach unhealthy levels.

That’s because fog drifting from the Pacific Ocean was sandwiched between the smoke and surface. Meanwhile, smoke particles above the marine layer were only allowing yellow-orange-red light to reach the surface, said Ralph Borrmann, a spokesman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

He said conditions were expected to remain until Friday; by then the district expects to issue its 25th consecutive Spare The Air alert requiring residents to cut pollution — the longest stretch since the program began in 1991.

The previous streak was a 14-day alert issued in 2018 when the Bay Area was choked by smoke from a fire that devastated the town of Paradise and killed 85 people.

This time, strong winds from the north and northeast pushed smoke from devastating wildfires in Oregon and Washington state into lower elevations, said Roger Gass, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Bay Area.

“The sheer amount of smoke, the multiple layers of smoke above us in the atmosphere are combining to darken our sky,” he said.