Striking photos show wildfire smoke turning the sky orange over San Francisco

Katie Canales/Business InsiderSan Francisco, California, at 11:10 am on September 9, 2020.
  • The sky above San Francisco turned a hazy orange Wednesday morning as the region continues to battle a series of wildfires.
  • The orange sky is a result of the smoke that has blown in from the fires, with smoke particles obscuring the sunlight.
  • As a result, San Francisco looked as though it were still nighttime throughout Wednesday, with an eerie twilight fog blanketing the city.
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San Francisco residents awoke on Wednesday to discover a glowing orange sky.

Smoke from wildfires has been covering San Francisco for weeks, but the layer that blew in on Wednesday morning was much thicker. And as the day wore on, the sky took on a darker hue of orange, making life in the city at 11 a.m. feel like night time, with streetlights and car headlights beaming through the dark and eerie shadows stretching across the ground.

The all-day eclipse is due to a series of Northern California wildfires that broke out in late August following a cluster of lightning storms and subsequent power outages. One of the wildfires, the SCU Lightning Complex, is currently 95% contained and has become one of the largest in California’s history. Firefighters continue to battle the blazes that have swept through this part of the state, including the fires that have begun more recently, like the fast-growing Creek Fire that has consumed over 160,000 acres so far.

The smoke in San Francisco on Wednesday sat above the fog, so air quality was not significantly worse despite a surreal sky that looked like something out of an Edvard Munch painting.

Here’s how the city looked in the eerie, apocalyptic-looking haze.


A series of wildfires broke out near the San Francisco Bay Area in August.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderA man stands with the Bay Bridge in the background in San Francisco, California, at 11:05 am on September 9, 2020.

Storms and a heatwave resulted in power outages and lightning strikes that sparked clusters of fires around the region.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderSan Francisco, California, at 10:40 am on September 9, 2020.

Smoke from the wildfires has been infiltrating the city for weeks already, with officials advising residents to remain indoors when the air quality is poor, and more fires have erupted within the past week.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderThe Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, California, at 10:30 am on September 9, 2020.

Source: Cal Fire


But Wednesday was a bit different — this time the smoke blew in and sat atop the city’s infamous fog, with the marine layer blocking the smoke from reaching the ground level.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderSan Francisco, California, at 11:05 am on September 9, 2020.

The eerie orange colour is because of a phenomenon known as Mie scattering.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderSan Francisco, California, at 10:30 am on September 9, 2020.

It results in the sky turning orange or red when wildfire smoke permeates the air.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderSan Francisco, California, at 10:40 am on September 9, 2020.

That’s because smoke particles — like dust and soot — block sunlight from reaching the ground.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderSan Francisco, California, at 11:05 am on September 9, 2020.

For that reason, Wednesday morning’s air quality was actually not as poor as usual, nor was the smell of the smoke as powerful as it typically is — at least for now.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderSan Francisco, California, at 10:45 am on September 9, 2020.

But it meant that at around 11 a.m. on Wednesday, the city looked as though it were nighttime.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderSan Francisco, California, at 10:30 am on September 9, 2020.

San Francisco is one of many cities that is currently grappling with the effects of the fires that are burning in California as well as in other locales along the West Coast.


Smoke from the fires will likely continue to fill the air in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderSan Francisco, California, at 10:30 am on September 9, 2020.

However, as UCLA scientist Daniel Swain wrote on Twitter on Wednesday, “It won’t be this bad all the time, but the scope of the fires is just that extreme.”

Katie Canales/Business InsiderSan Francisco, California, at 11:15 am on September 9, 2020.

Source: Daniel Swain/Twitter

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