Russian forest fires likely cause of haze |

Russian forest fires likely cause of haze

SUMMIT COUNTY – Forest fires in Russia are most likely to blame for the soft, gray haze hanging over Summit County, according to authorities at the Air Pollution Control Division of the state Department of Health.

Public information officer Christopher Dann said about 1 million acres are on fire in the Asian portion of Russia, and smoke from those fires is being transported throughout the world. Last week, smoke from the fires reached Colorado; Monday, the smoke reached the Midwest and East Coast.

Forest Service officials in Summit County said the haze is hanging over the state and is worse in the West. No fires were burning in Colorado Monday.

Department of Health officials monitor haze, smoke, ozone and other pollutants in the air both so they can forecast movements and warn people who are sensitive to respiratory problems.

Seniors, children and those with chronic respiratory illnesses such as asthma or pulmonary disease will most likely exhibit symptoms before others.

Symptoms can include a sore throat, red and itchy eyes, mild coughing and exacerbation of pre-existing respiratory conditions.

“Your body’s going to tell you the impact the smoke is having before any monitoring we’re going to tell you,” Dann said.

The smoke wafting in from Russia is more of a visual nuisance than a health concern, Dann said.

“We’ve certainly seen a lot worse,” he said. “During last summer’s wildfires, we had areas that were socked in with smoke for hours or days at a time. We’re not at that stage with this.”

The Hayman fire southwest of Denver last year was like a research project, Dann said. From the smoke that billowed from that fire and others in the state, the pollution control division was able to forecast smoke impacts statewide.

Pollution experts determine the severity of smoke in the air by measuring particulate size and concentration.

In Colorado, scientists measure micrograms per cubic meter, with smaller particulate ratings being healthier than larger ones.

A particulate matter (PM) rating of 10 – considered to be a fairly large particle – is about one-seventh the width of a human hair, Dann said. The air is monitored constantly, but are averaged out over a 24-hour period. The standard is 150

The high PM rating Monday was 18 – well within the “good” range, Dann said. Last Thursday, when a pulse of the smoke settled on Denver, the one-hour high rating was 193. The 24-hour average, however, was only 55, which is considered to be “moderate.”

On the other hand, Dann noted, readings last summer during the Hayman fire almost reached 400.

U.S. Forest Service officials in Silverthorne and 911 operators fielded phone calls all day Monday from people wondering what was causing the haze.

Some wondered if the smoke was due to humidity, a dust storm or forest fires in the West.

Some 200 firefighters and support staff are fighting a 2,000-acre grass fire in central California that started Sunday afternoon. It is about 50 percent contained, but there are no estimates when it will be extinguished.

The Bird Fire, named for the road where it started, broke out in the brown hills southeast of Tracy on the Central Valley’s western edge. Winds of 20 mph pushed the fire on a 6-mile run southeast from its starting point, and smoke and flames were visible from Interstate 5.

A 15-acre wildfire near Reno, Nev., began Sunday afternoon along Interstate 80 near the California line. The fire forced highway officials to close one of the westbound lanes of the highway. That fire was expected to be contained by Monday and extinguished by Tuesday.

Neither of those fires are likely to be contributing to the haze covering Colorado because the wind is blowing from the northwest and pushing that smoke south, Dann said.

He anticipates that Colorado will experience “pulses” of smoke over the summer from the fires overseas.

“Obviously, of greater concern to us would be fires that would be burning at home,” Dann said. “The best intelligence we’re getting is that the wildfire season is delayed, but we still may have a very active wildfire season.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or

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