Wildfire smoke creates unhealthy air conditions in Summit County
While the conditions are expected to improve slightly Sunday night, more smoke is expected to roll into the area Monday
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued an air quality health advisory for Summit County and much of the state Sunday morning, Aug. 8, as wildfire smoke from across the West drifts its way into Colorado.
According to air quality readings from PurpleAir.com, a website that collects data from local sensors on a 10-minute average, Summit County’s air quality is showing readings between 130 and 160, which are considered unhealthy levels based on the U.S. Air Quality Index. The index assesses air quality related to a variety of pollutants on a scale of zero to 500.
Once air quality reaches a reading of 101 or higher on the index, it is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups. Air quality readings at 151 or higher on the index are considered unhealthy for the general public, according to AirNow, a government partnership between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies. During periods of unhealthy air quality, some members of the general public may experience health effects, and individuals particularly sensitive to air pollution may be impacted more severely.
The smoke is coming primarily from California.
“I’d say the bulk of (the smoke) is coming from California, given that they’ve had the most activity in the past week,” National Weather Service meteorologist Kaitlyn Mensch said. “The fires over there have been quite active.”
Summit County is recommending that individuals with thick smoke in their neighborhoods consider remaining indoors, especially individuals with heart disease and respiratory illnesses. Older adults and those with young children should also consider staying inside.
According to the county, residents can determine if unhealthy levels of smoke are in the area based on visibility. If visibility is less than 5 miles, the smoke has reached unhealthy levels. For reference, if you are in downtown Dillon or Frisco, you should be able to see Buffalo Mountain. If you are in Breckenridge you should be able to see the mountain peaks above the ski area.
To mitigate smoke exposure, public health officials recommend reducing prolonged or heavy exertion outside. Those who are doing activities outside should take frequent breaks, drink plenty of fluids and watch for symptoms like coughing or shortness of breath. Community members should consider relocating indoors if they begin to feel ill.
Anyone experiencing severe symptoms should immediately call 911.
Community members can create a clean-air room in their home by closing all of the windows and doors and running an air filtering unit or a do-it-yourself box-fan filter system.
Mensch said the smoke has begun to settle over the plains and in valley areas like Summit County. She noted that the area could see some improvement by Sunday evening, but more smoke is likely on the way throughout the week.
“There could be some slight improvement by the late afternoon or evening, but the extent of how much improvement is a little more uncertain,” Mensch said. “We don’t really know how well this smoke is going to settle in the area so it is less likely to move out if we have lighter wind in the area.
“With that gradual improvement we have possibly for the afternoon and evening, we do have another system out to our north and west and that will likely be responsible for bringing our next round of smoke in Monday. … It’s not very certain if the smoke will be as bad or as poor as it was (this weekend).”
Mensch continued to say there should be improvement toward the end of next week.
“While it’s a little far out, we are starting to see a signal for an upper-level ridge to build up toward the end of next week, which could potentially bring the smoke more toward the north and east,” Mensch said. “So the worst of the smoke would be hopefully out of our area.”
For more information on smoke impacts and protective measures, visit Summit County’s smoke and air quality webpage. Updates on current air quality can be found at PurpleAir.com.
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