Raiders adjust practice as wildfires alter Bay Area air quality

Updated October 11, 2017 - 6:43 pm

ALAMEDA, Calif. — Ashes fell from the sky. A red hue filtered the sun. Into the air that smelled of a Labor Day cookout, one veteran Raiders player jogged onto the practice field Wednesday at the team facility and, in seemingly half-joking spirits, coughed.

“I can’t breathe,” he said.

The situation 40 miles north, of course, is dire.

Wildfires have devastated Northern California’s wine country, wiping out neighborhoods, businesses and other infrastructure and causing at least 21 deaths. The Raiders face a far less significant, albeit real, implication in the aftermath. The team shortened its practice Wednesday and rescheduled its Thursday session because of compromised air conditions.

At the time of practice Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency determined there to be an Air Quality Index of 189 particulate matter. This unit of measurement quantifies inhalable pollutants that can affect the heart and lungs, potentially causing serious health effects.

A reading of 189 falls under the EPA’s “Unhealthy” category. It’s the fourth-most severe level on a six-part scale. The following health message accompanies an Unhealthy classification: “People with heart or lung disease, older adults and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.”

The Raiders canceled their individual drills, which usually last about 15 minutes following the stretch period. Thursday’s practice initially was scheduled for 1:45 p.m. It was moved to approximately 11 a.m.

An early time could help. Air conditions worsened considerably during the day Wednesday. At 9 a.m., Alameda had a 78 AQI, which fell under the “Moderate” category. Coach Jack Del Rio addressed reporters at noon, a couple of hours before practice began. Ash was not yet noticed to be falling from the sky.

“We think we’re OK to work today in this,” Del Rio said. “We’re monitoring the different levels of smoke that is here, and we’re going to make sure we do the right things with our guys. … I can’t really answer scientifically how it’s being done, but we’ve got people that are checking all the data.”

On Sunday at 1:25 p.m., the Raiders are scheduled to host the Los Angeles Chargers at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

Air conditions very well could be improved by then, but should the conditions still pose a risk, it is unclear how that might affect the game. A Raiders spokesman said the team had no comment on the situation, and a request to the NFL office for comment was not immediately returned.

Since Sunday evening, the wildfires have cast a distinct pall across the Bay Area.

“It smells like someone’s barbecuing, to be honest,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “That’s what I thought. I didn’t know that it would travel like that. My heart really goes out to the families, though. When something like that happens and then someone tells you what it really is, you just sit there and think you’re fortunate; you’re blessed. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the families that have lost houses, loved ones.

“That kind of stuff, that’s real life. That’s hard. Being 2-3 is not hard when we really think about it. Doing that kind of stuff, that’s what’s really hard. Our prayers are with them that they can have peace and encouragement.”

Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at mgehlken@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.

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