Schools and tourist attractions across the San Francisco Bay Area were shut Friday and residents were urged to stay indoors as smoke from California’s deadliest wildfire — a three-hour drive away — produced air quality levels worse than in South Asia’s polluted megacities.
The closures came as President Donald Trump was set to visit the western state Saturday to survey the damage and meet victims of the giant Camp Fire that has devoured an area roughly the size of Chicago since it broke out last week, killing at least 63 people.
In an interview with Fox News ahead of his visit, Trump doubled-down on his earlier claim that mismanagement of Califonia’s forests was to blame for the fires. But he acknowledged that climate change may have contributed “a little bit” to the wildfires.
“You need forest management. It has to be,” Trump told Fox. “I’m not saying that in a negative way, a positive — I’m just saying the facts.”
More than 600 people have been reported missing since the inferno erupted November 8, laying waste to the town of Paradise at the northern foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and destroying around 10,000 homes.
Some 180 miles (290 kilometers) to the southwest, San Francisco on Friday ordered all public schools shut and its iconic cable cars returned to their stations as the Air Quality Index soared to 271, comparable to Dhaka, Bangladesh and worse than Kolkata, India.
“San Francisco’s air quality has moved from red or ‘unhealthy’ to purple or ‘very unhealthy’ due to local wildfires and weather patterns,” the SFMTA transport authority said on its website.
“The Department of Public Health highly recommends that everyone stay indoors and avoid exposure to the outside air.”
Mayor London Breed announced that public buses would be free for the day in order to ensure people have access to enclosed transportation.
A thick blanket of haze enveloped the region and the famous Golden Gate Bridge was shrouded in thick smog.
“It’s bad,” said local resident Melvin Karsenti. “You have this constant haze over the city. The air feels thicker. I’ve never seen that many people wear (face) masks.”