Where there’s fire, there’s smoke
SUMMIT COUNTY – So much for a smoke-free Summit.
Early risers around the county Thursday found their sunrise views of mountain peaks were replaced with vistas more common in polluted urban areas – haze, fog, clouds and dust limited visibility to within a couple miles.
According to weather forecasters and environmental officials, haze-haters can point their fingers at three causes. More importantly, the haze is likely to continue for a few days, giving asthmatics and other sensitive breathers reason to stay indoors.
Extreme winds on the Front Range are fanning three Colorado wildland fires, sweeping some smoke upslope to the mountains, said Carl Burroughs, a hydrometeorological technician with the National Weather Service in Boulder.
Firefighters are battling a 1,200-acre fire north of Castle Rock in Douglas County and a 5,000-acre fire northwest of Boulder near Jamestown. A 1,500-acre fire near Brush was designated as “contained” late Wednesday.
Even more smoke originated in California wildfires, Burroughs said.
“The flow off California is coming almost directly toward Colorado,” he said. “As long as it’s been burning, and as big as it is, we should be getting some of that smoke.”
Seven fires burning in four California counties had consumed 723,000 acres, 2,600 homes and 20 lives by Thursday night.
Former Summit County resident and Summit Daily News editor Alex Miller who now lives in the Los Angeles area said Thursday that air-borne ash had subsided and the sunsets are spectacular, but the smell of smoke lingers.
Many Coloradans love to blame California for invasions – whether people or particulate matter – but fires aren’t the only cause for Summit County’s atmospheric haze.
Summit County environmental health manager Jim Rada said high winds have also sent desert and mountain dust into the atmosphere, compounding the effects of smoke.
Rada spent part of Thursday morning conferring with nurses at the county’s public health office, expecting that the air pollution could cause respiratory problems for people with asthma or other respiratory conditions.
“As windy as it is right now, I’d venture that it isn’t all smoke,” Rada said.
The state’s air pollution division has monitors that measure particulate matter in the air in Summit County. Rada said the monitors don’t provide real-time information, though, and analysis of their filters can take three days. So, citizens won’t know immediately if the air reached hazardous levels.
Rada instead used an air pollution rule of thumb.
“If the visibility is less than 5 miles, then particulates have reached unhealthy levels,” he said. “Right now (about 10 a.m.), I can just make out Buffalo (Mountain) from my Frisco office, so we’re pushing that level. But I think we’ll see it clear out today.”
The smoke had various impacts on people throughout the county Thursday.
The school district’s nurse advised elementary schools to keep asthmatic children inside for recess. Some companies with employees working outside were keeping an eye on air conditions.
“The smoke can be irritating, so if it gets too bad we’ll move guys indoors where it’s safer,” said Scott O’Brien, assistant public works director for the town of Dillon, who had five employees working outside Thursday morning.
“We also keep an eye on safety alerts. The police department usually lets us know. Other than that, there’s not much else we can do.”
Smoke is likely to continue, according to the National Weather Service forecast. Burroughs said computer modeling data suggested the upper atmosphere air flow would stay the same through the weekend.
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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