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West Marin wildfire evacuation threat lifts as smoky tint descends

Evacuation warnings in West Marin were lifted Wednesday afternoon as the Woodward fire in Point Reyes National Seashore nears total containment.

Meanwhile, smoke from wildfires elsewhere mixed with a thick marine layer blocking the sun, turning the sky a doomsday orange throughout Marin and the Bay Area.

“It’s overcast with smoke over the entire state,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Drew Peterson. “It’s just a complete smoke-out.”

Despite the eerie orange and red skies over the Bay Area, Jeremy Michael, a meteorologist assisting the firefighting team managing the West Marin fire, said air quality readings in Marin aren’t as bad as the sky seems.

“I know it looks really bad right now. We’ve got the orange glow in the local area,” Michael said. “But a lot of this smoke is elevated and not a lot is reaching the ground right now.”

According to the smoke outlook produced by the Woodward fire incident management team, the air quality index is reading between 50 and 100 for San Rafael, which is moderate air quality. The more significant smoke impacts are north and east of Marin, officials said.

A handful of areas are showing good air, though many Bay Area residents reported via social media that ash was falling.

The fine particulate matter measured above 150 — unhealthy for all — in Pleasanton, Concord and Napa throughout Tuesday, and it was unhealthy for those with breathing or other underlying issues in Vallejo, San Jose, Gilroy, Redwood City and Livermore.

The temperatures are expected to keep cooling off Wednesday, Peterson said, and might be even cooler than originally forecast because of the smoke.

“The smoke is more or less in control of the forecast,” he said. “By that, I mean that the forecast models are probably going to be wrong. It’s probably going to be much cooler than we’re forecasting. How much cooler, we don’t know.”

Still, the relief from the heat won’t bring any immediate relief from the smoke, Peterson said. A “spare the air” alert remains in effect through Friday, the 25th consecutive day. There has not been a day without one since Aug. 17.

“We just have so many fires right now, it won’t matter which way the wind is blowing,” he said. “We’re just going to have to take this day by day.”

Mesmerized by the saturated sky, Mill Valley resident Scott Walker used a drone to capture aerial images near Tamalpais High School at about 10 a.m., when the sky was a bright red.

As he flew the drone, Walker said he saw ash falling, but only from where the LED light on the drone device flashed.

“To see the ash in the sky under that light but not being able to see it directly is really concerning about what health implications could come from it,” he said. “It’s such an interesting and weird time right now. Nothing will surprise me of what tomorrow could bring.”

In West Marin, the Woodward fire burning 3 miles southwest of Olema has remained at 4,895 acres and 95% containment since Sunday. Full containment of the fire is expected Tuesday, a month after it was ignited by lightning.

Wednesday briefing: Video conference on Facebook

Incident page: Woodward fire

Firefighters conducted a prescribed burn in the northern section of the fire Tuesday to secure the containment lines there. Crews were mostly patrolling the perimeter of the fire Wednesday to knock down spot fires and to mop up and strengthen containment lines.

“We feel really good about where the fire is at,” said Eric Newall, the incident commander. “We’re here to continue to monitor and make sure it doesn’t go anywhere.”

The Point Reyes National Seashore remains closed.

The Bay Area News Group contributed to this story.

Source: Orange County Register

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