SANTA CLARA, Calif. — With multiple large-scale wildfires blazing across the Bay Area, the San Francisco 49ers tweaked their Friday schedule and took an extra precaution with a pair of players more sensitive to the smoke wafting over their practice fields.
Originally scheduled to begin practice at 10:15 a.m. PT on Friday, the Niners made the last-minute call to move that practice to 9:10 a.m. because of concerns about the air quality index reaching a level that would not allow them to practice.
“We have some tool that tells us the number of what the air quality is,” coach Kyle Shanahan said Thursday. “So, if it gets to 200, there’s no choice. [At] 200, we’re not allowed to go out there, and I think it was at times [Wednesday]. … If the number gets to 200, and we’re basically at the mercy of how the winds go, then we’re not allowed to be out there. So, keeping our fingers crossed, hoping it doesn’t get there.”
It didn’t get there on Friday, but the AQI hovered between 150 and 155 for much of the team’s practice. Although that’s still considered “unhealthy,” it doesn’t rise to the level of the league’s automatic cancellation of practice.
Although none of the fires is in the immediate proximity of Levi’s Stadium and the 49ers’ facility, the SCU Lightning Complex, which is a cluster of approximately 20 fires broken into multiple zones, is considered the largest fire in the state as it burns across almost 230,000 acres of Santa Clara, Alameda, Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Many of the fires began when lightning struck during a series of brief thunderstorms last weekend followed by the triple-digit temperatures this week.
As of Friday afternoon, the SCU Lightning Complex had reached just 10% containment. It has triggered evacuation orders for various parts of Santa Clara County, including just east of the San Jose city limits, which is about 20 miles from Levi’s Stadium.
The air quality index at the Niners’ facility has vacillated based on which direction the wind is blowing. The team had no issues going through practice at the scheduled time on Thursday but would have had it had a workout on Wednesday.
“We’ll be monitoring it every day,” Shanahan said. “I’m not going to have much of a choice. If it gets to a certain point, we’re not allowed to go out there for good reason. So, hoping the wind blows the right way over here over the next week or so.”
On Friday, the Niners changed practice out of concern that the wind might change direction and push the air quality index beyond the threshold. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said Shanahan and his staff reset the schedule quickly in the morning without much of an issue logistically.
Cornerback Richard Sherman took a moment to thank those fighting the various fires in the Bay Area during his Friday media session.
“I’d like to give a shoutout to everybody fighting those wildfires right now,” Sherman said. “Those people are going through it and they’re saving lives, and you pray for all the people who have lost loved ones and lost property and are dealing with that kind of tragedy. You just pray and keep them in your thoughts and want to raise them up.”