As I’m sure some of you may know, California is prone to wildfires, and this year was no exception. Sources say that 2018 had the most destructive and deadly wildfire season on record. Luckily, I was not directly affected by the wildfires, but I still experienced the aftermath nonetheless; I write this post for those who are considering applying to come to California on exchange as it can be a serious health concern.
This map may not mean much, but it shows how the wildfires affect both Northern and Southern California, and some are much more destructive than others. The Camp Fire (Butte County) alone took 88 lives, with other fires also taking lives and destroying cities.
But what I want to write about is how severely the air quality was affected. In New Zealand, we are blessed with relatively clean air (even more as a person from Hawke’s Bay). It never got to the point where I would have to wear a mask.
During the wildfire season, the smoke raised the air quality index (AQI) to well over 150. Other schools around the area closed down until further notice as a safety precaution. Berkeley didn’t. Nearby supermarkets, and even Berkeley’s health centre had run out of the suggested N-95 masks. I was walking around wearing one of those medical masks which does nothing. Just walking to the dining hall right across the road was enough to make your throat dry and stuffy, and there was a lot of coughing. So, you can see that it’s quite a big problem.
There was an online petition started to close the campus and cancel classes. Over 16,000 people signed it. Although it wasn’t accepted initially, campus was eventually closed within a couple of days, as the AQI had soared over 200.
Just to put this in perspective, the AQI in Auckland sits around 19 real-time.
Also, to show how much Berkeley was affected by the smoke, here is a before and after shot of the campus.
BEFORE / AFTER – “welcome to UC Beijing”
Like I mentioned earlier, we weren’t in direct path of these fires, and the rain that followed soon after got rid of the smoke, but this definitely made me appreciate the clean air of New Zealand, and is something that you should keep in mind when considering coming to California during the dry season.