There is nothing like a pending PG&E power shutdown (she typed quickly) to bring back memories of this week two years ago, when those of us living “a good distance” from the wildfires ripping through Napa and Sonoma suddenly realized we are not.

On October 12, 2017 — the date these photos were taken — the San Francisco Bay Area itself was engulfed in smoke as we had never seen before. Sadly we would see it again 13 months later, when even more people and homes would perish in the Camp Fire.

Smokey view looking west over San Francisco Bay on October 12, 2017.

Smokey view looking west over San Francisco Bay on October 12, 2017. Credit: Shelly Rivoli

But back on this day, the San Francisco Bay Area took on the air of a different planet (almost literally) as our skies were so strangely dark, the familiar landscape a monochrome haze. Until the sun sank lower toward the Pacific and the gray, grim atmosphere suddenly “pinkened.”

Eerie light through the Golden Gate Bridge on the evening of October 12, 2017.

Eerie light through the Golden Gate Bridge on the evening of October 12, 2017. Credit: Shelly Rivoli

Curious, nervous, everyone who could took a look outside to see. Cars like mine suddenly stopped at the roadsides. Not a beautiful San Francisco sunset stopping us in our tracks to smile and sigh this time, but a blood-red blaze few who saw will soon forget.

Some sobering statistics from the Wikipedia page created for this event and other reports include:

  • Some 10,000 firefighters fought the wine country wildfires of 2017
  • Crews came from as far as Australia to assist
  • At least 12 different fires are counted in the “Wine Country Wildfires” of October 2017
  • Months later, PG&E was found responsible for the ignition of eight of these fires
  • Smoke traveled as far as 100 miles
  • More than 40 people lost their lives ranging in age from 14 to 100 years old
  • Almost 9,000 homes were destroyed.

This morning, we awoke grateful to still be among those with electricity–for the moment. Planned power blackouts for an estimated 800,000 Californians will be under effect by tonight, when high winds and high fire risk conditions peak just like those that fanned the flames of the Napa and Sonoma area wildfires two years ago.

The setting sun sinks into a blood red band over the Marin Headlands and Point Richmond, California.

The setting sun sinks into a blood red band over the Marin Headlands and Point Richmond, California. Credit: Shelly Rivoli

It’s a controversial move by PG&E, and frankly, it’s complicated. Though what wouldn’t we do to avoid the devastation and suffering we’ve seen from Northern California wildfires? Yet doesn’t preemptively shutting off power to so much of our population bring its own risks?

Even, perhaps, risks of other fire incidents and harm as people make way through traffic without traffic lights, turn to the dry outdoors for cooking alternatives like charcoal barbecues, decide to use candles to help with lighting, attempt to use generators they aren’t accustomed to using, have no burglar alarms on homes or businesses (for blocks and blocks), or have complications getting emergency help if needed–especially the elderly and those with special communication needs.

We’ve been told our shut off time has been postponed to 8:00 p.m. tonight. Because of the scale of these outages, most are expected to be without electricity for more than 24 hours. It takes time to methodically check and re-power each area affected–and one thing’s for sure. This is a lot of area. Yesterday morning, we were advised to prepare for up to five days without power.

red sunset over San Francisco Bay caused by wildfire smoke

Red sunset over the Marin Headlands and Point Richmond on October 12, 2017, during the Wine Country wildfires. Credit: Shelly Rivoli

I am grateful to have fresh, clean air tonight, no tinge of wildfire smoke in it (not even smoke from a neighbor’s barbecue). Here’s hoping the rest of our wildfire season stays that way — and that the rains come soon.

For updates, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Digital downloads of these Wine Country Wildfire Smoke Over the San Francisco Bay are available in this gallery.

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PG&E Power Lines and Power Poles in the East Bay (taken today–more coming as electricity and time allow!)

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