ALAMEDA — The NFL is keeping an eye on the wildfires in Northern California and has been exploring options to move Sunday’s game between the Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers if it becomes necessary.
Michael Signora, the NFL’s vice president of football communications, said Thursday that the league is getting updates on the situation from both teams and from city officials in Oakland.
“We continue to monitor air quality conditions in the Bay Area and are in close communication with both the Raiders and Chargers, as well as local authorities,” Signora said. “At this point, the game remains scheduled for Sunday in Oakland.”
At least 26 people have died and some 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed by the blazes, which began in California wine country Sunday. An estimated 25,000 people have been driven from their homes.
Oakland, which is some 45 miles south of the fires, has been blanketed by smoke.
College football games in Berkeley and Stanford are also planned for this weekend, and officials from both schools are monitoring the situations there as well.
If the NFL decides that conditions in Oakland are too unhealthy to play Sunday, the Raiders game could be moved to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has also offered up Qualcomm Stadium, where the Chargers used to play before relocating to Los Angeles this year.
“It’s up to them to make the final decision to either move us, prepare us to play here, or what not,” Raiders cornerback TJ Carrie said. “But we have to continue to practice and play as if we’re going to play here.”
Carrie said the Raiders have advised players to be cautious with their time outside.
“Our strength team and some of the nutritionist people that we have, they’ve expressed to us on different masks that we can purchase and different things that we can do to just keep us healthy,” Carrie said. “Staying indoors, little things that they feel like will make the most difference.”
The fires aren’t far from Napa, where the Raiders have held training camp since 1996, one year after late owner Al Davis moved the team back to Oakland from Los Angeles.
“It’s scary for all the victims that one, we’ve lost, and then the victims who’ve lost their livelihood,” Carrie said. “We’re talking about homes, cars, memories, pictures. They’ve lost so much in this process and it’s very devastating. As everyone within the community, we need to pull together for them.”
The smoky conditions have forced the Raiders to alter their outdoor schedule this week. Practice times have been changed to limit the effect on the players.
“We’ve done our best to stay as in-routine as we can,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “Coach (Jack Del Rio) has done an awesome job of adjusting where he’s needed to but we feel like we’re putting together a good week of prep.”
The Raiders took the practice field Wednesday in smoky conditions with even some ash falling from the sky. The Environmental Protection Agency said the air was “unhealthy” in Alameda, about 40 miles from the fires.
The Raiders shortened their practice by eliminating individual drills in an effort to limit the amount of time players spent outside.
Del Rio said earlier in the day that the team had people monitoring the air quality to determine whether it was safe to practice.
“We think we’re OK to work today in this,” he said. “We’re monitoring the different levels of smoke that is here and we’re going to make sure we do the right things with our guys.”
Oakland later decided to reschedule Thursday’s practice, having it start at 11 a.m. rather than 1:45 p.m. in hopes of better air quality earlier in the day.
The Raiders teamed with the Bay Area’s other pro sports teams to donate $450,000 to support the fire relief efforts. The Raiders, 49ers, Athletics, Giants, Warriors, Sharks and Earthquakes also set up a website – youcaring.com/firerelief – for fans to make their own donations.
“When a tragedy hits this close to home, we feel it’s our duty to get involved and to help our community and those who have been impacted,” A’s President Dave Kaval said. “We are proud to team up with all of the Bay Area professional sports teams to support North Bay disaster relief efforts.”
The Raiders have a particularly strong relationship with the areas affected by the fire because they hold training camp in Napa each summer and have formed bonds in the community there.
“My heart really goes out to the families,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “When something like that happens and then someone tells you what it really is, you just sit there and think you’re fortunate, you’re blessed. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the families that have lost houses, loved ones. That kind of stuff, that’s real life. That’s hard. Being 2-3 is not hard when we really think about it. Doing that kind of stuff, that’s what’s really hard. Our prayers are with them that they can have peace and encouragement.”
NOTES: Carr (back), WR Amari Cooper (knee), right guard Gabe Jackson (foot), cornerback David Amerson (shoulder) and RB DeAndre Washington (hamstring) were all limited in practice Thursday. LB Cory James (knee) and TE Lee Smith (knee) practiced after sitting out Wednesday. First-round pick Gareon Conley (shin) and FB Jamize Olawale (concussion) were held out.