An atypical remote start to the new fall semester got even more unnatural on Wednesday when heavy smoke from Northern California’s wildfires, sitting atop a heavy marine layer in the Bay Area, produced dark and eerie orange skies. As morning progressed to afternoon, the Berkeley campus’s shocking electric pumpkin-colored backdrop in the early morning lightened to pale apricot by afternoon and finally to a nondescript smokier shade.
Webcams on the Campanile, set up to focus on the falcons living there, captured the crazy glow around 8:30 a.m.; campus lights were still on even at 2 p.m. outside Doe Library.
Irene Yi, a student-photographer for the Office of Communications and Public Affairs, shot photos late morning and early afternoon, before a 2 p.m. class.
“I woke up this morning at 8 a.m., and it was bright orange outside my window,” said Yi, a third-year linguistics major who lives in Berkeley, “and some ash had fallen onto the cars parked outside my building. When I went onto campus, it honestly looked like a post-apocalyptic world. Some people had brought tripods to take pictures of campus, some students were making a TikTok dance on the Doe Library steps and someone was on Memorial Glade, just looking at the sky. It was super-haunting.”
Eric Manzo, a fourth-year society and environmental major, said he woke up about 8:30 a.m. in his Berkeley apartment, two blocks from campus, and was shocked to see a red sky. “Everyone was posting stuff on Snapchat. It was scary, but also sad,” he said, “because I knew it was affecting people everywhere.” When Manzo showed up for a morning Zoom class, he said it was obvious which classmates lived in the Bay Area because they had desk lamps on, to illuminate their faces.
“For me,” he added, “it was a flashback to last year, with the fires. … I remember having a farming class, and our broccoli had so much ash on it,” like the cars today outside his apartment building, including the one belonging to his roommate, KC Hunt.
After a visit to campus today, Maya Goehring-Harris, Berkeley’s associate director of external relations for University Development and Alumni Relations, remarked that she’s “always dreamed about writing a dystopian novel involving campus, but this is way too eerily like living it.”
Tami Cate, communications director for University Health Services, spent the day at her office in the Tang Center. “Coming to work certainly felt a bit surreal,” she said, “almost like it was nighttime. Some people are still going about their business, but it’s quite odd and a little eerie on campus.”
At least the air quality index on Wednesday was moderate, said Patrick Goff, Berkeley’s executive director of environment, health and safety, around noon.
“As disconcerting as the sky looks, the AQI remains at about 100,” he said. “Our atmosphere is experiencing several layers of fog and smoke that is partially blocking sunlight. The marine layer, which is responsible for the fog, will likely burn off later, and with it, we will likely experience poorer air quality.”
From his home in the Berkeley hills, Goff said he was able “to look at the orange sky and marine layer covering the flats. Just when you think things can’t get stranger…”
Manzo said that a class he is taking on leadership tried Wednesday to keep things positive by discussing each student’s world vision and how togetherness can get people through difficulty.
“At the end of class,” he said, “I was looking at the orange sky through the window, from my desk, and we were discussing … how most of our visions had to do with community and, especially in these trying times, having community, whether it’s as students in a Zoom class or in our bubbles at home.”