The smoke from the Camp Fire descended on the San Francisco 49ers Santa Clara facility Friday, causing the team to change its practice hours and the NFL to monitor conditions that could affect Monday’s game.
For now, the league said it has no immediate plans to change the location of the game against the New York Giants or its kickoff time. But an NFL spokesman said that could change in the three days leading up to the game if the air quality doesn’t improve and stays at unhealthy levels.
“Air quality is an important aspect of a safe game day environment,” the league wrote in its game operations manual. “The biggest health risk occurs when levels of particulate matter rise to a level that can irritate the airways and cause breathing problems, especially during exercise.”
The smoke from the Butte County fire, 230 miles northeast of Santa Clara, forced the 49ers to push their practice up Friday more than one hour, from 1:50 p.m. to 12:45 p.m., to avoid worsening conditions later in the afternoon. The Air Quality Index (AQI) reached 182 midway through their practice, which is considered “unhealthy.” The team likely would have remained indoors if the AQI reached 200, which is considered the “very unhealthy” threshold in which outdoor exercise is not recommended.
The Raiders, who practice 35 miles north in Alameda, Calif., changed their normal Friday practice to a walk-through because of the air conditions. They’re scheduled to host the Los Angeles Chargers in Oakland on Sunday, but smoke coming from the fires in Butte County could affect that game if the wind patterns don’t change.
At least nine people have been killed by the fire, officials said Friday. An estimated 2,000 structures have burned and 15,000 more are being threatened. Containment Friday afternoon was 5 percent, and the fire could lead to worsening air quality throughout Northern California.
A 49ers spokesman said any decision to change the game’s kickoff time or location would be made more than 24 hours in advance – and that teams generally are required to be at the location of the game roughly 24 hours ahead of kickoff.
That means if the league were to change the game’s location – move it to Arizona, for example – that decision would likely be made by Sunday. Another option could be to move the game to Tuesday night allowing air conditions more time to improve.
The 49ers are to have their bye next week, while the Giants are coming off theirs, making rescheduling to some point later in the season highly unlikely.
The NFL last moved a “Monday Night Football” game in 2003 when wildfires engulfed San Diego, pushing the Chargers and Miami Dolphins game to Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. However, fires were far closer to the game’s original venue, Qualcomm Stadium, than the Camp Fire is to Santa Clara. Qualcomm’s parking lot was used as an evacuation center and the logistics of handling an NFL game would have likely been impossible to pull off.
The last time the 49ers had a home Monday night game moved came in 1989. That game against the New England Patriots was changed from Candlestick Park to nearby Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto following the Loma Prieta earthquake.
The Los Angeles Rams canceled their practice on Friday due to the Woolsey Fire in Thousand Oaks, Calif. ESPN reported 45 members of the organization, including roughly 20 players and coaches, were forced to evacuate their homes. There are no immediate plans to change the start time or location of their home game Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks at the L.A. Coliseum.
49ers assistant strength and conditioning coach Shane Wallen was affected directly by the Camp Fire. He grew up in Paradise and his father lost his home this week to the fire.
Players such as tight end George Kittle, receiver Marquise Goodwin, quarterback Nick Mullens all tweeted their support of Wallen, who set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for relief efforts.