October 15, 2021

Dear Members of Our Campus Community,

As most of us know, the Alisal Fire has been burning along the Gaviota Coast since Monday afternoon. The fire is currently 41 percent contained, and poses no threat to UC Santa Barbara’s physical campus. We are continuing to carefully monitor developments and work with local emergency management and fire officials to stay informed of the latest updates. 

We have heard that some of our community members are concerned about the air quality, which is expected to fluctuate for the duration of the fire, as well as classroom ventilation as we balance potential smoke exposure with our COVID-19 mitigation protocols. The University of California, using systemwide experts, developed a detailed process released in October 2019 to help campuses make decisions when assessing air quality for wildfire smoke events. While we do not anticipate that our campus’s air quality will reach the sustained levels of particle pollution that would necessitate a mandatory curtailment of operations, we are closely monitoring the situation. We have consulted with our Academic Senate, Deans, campus health experts, GSA and AS student leadership, CSAC and Staff Assembly leadership, and administrative colleagues on our campus response regarding the possibility of moving to temporary remote instruction and curtailing campus operations if the situation requires.

Based on the UC policy, a sustained Air Quality Index (AQI) of 101-150 would suggest accommodations for students, staff, and faculty who have respiratory issues or medical conditions that make them particularly sensitive to air quality conditions. It is at this point that we would also consider closing building doors and windows, which we recognize could conflict with our current COVID-19 mitigation protocols for classroom ventilation. In the event that there is a sustained AQI of 151-200, we would encourage instructors to consider conducting their classes remotely, and our campus would consider limiting outdoor work if practicable for our staff colleagues. For a sustained AQI over 200, remote instruction would become mandatory, outdoor work would be suspended, and campus operations would be curtailed to the extent possible. Yesterday, the AQI hovered between “good” and “moderate,” and the highest level we have seen this week has been an AQI of 160 for a relatively brief period.  

At this time, the AQI has not reached the sustained levels that would trigger the need for remote instruction or curtailment of campus operations. However, the Highway 101 closure earlier this week affected some of our staff colleagues. The highway has now reopened, but we encourage supervisors to exercise flexibility in allowing our staff colleagues to work remotely if they are impacted by a future highway closure due to the Alisal Fire. 

In the meantime, for our students, faculty, and staff, we expect to have N95 masks available for pickup this afternoon at Student Health, the Student Resource Building, the Library, Campus Store, Residence Halls, and Pardall Center in Isla Vista. 

We also encourage our community members to monitor websites for possible changes to upcoming campus events that may be impacted by the fluctuating air quality. 

This is an unexpected challenge that we will meet together. We will continue to assess the fire and air quality conditions, with the health and safety of our campus as our highest priority, and will update our community if the situation warrants.


Henry T. Yang

Information on the Alisal Fire and air quality conditions: