Doctors urge residents to take precautions

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— Steamboat Springs may be miles away from the furious wildfires near Denver and Glenwood Springs, but smoke drifting into the area has spurred local doctors and health officials to warn people to take health precautions if smoke conditions worsen.

"The main message is that it's here. There's a reasonable chance in the next few weeks or months we're going to experience (smoke) in Steamboat more," Dr. Steven Ross of Sleeping Bear Pediatrics said. "We are getting those chemicals they are drifting up."

Many people close to the fires are reporting respiratory problems due to the smoke. The fatal asthma attack of one Colorado Springs woman may have been linked to smoke from the Hayman wildfire, reports have said.

Not nearly as many people in the Steamboat area have been affected by smoke from the wildfires, Ross said. But he said that a handful have: He's spoken with at least six people in the past few days who have had problems breathing due to smoke in the area. Ross said there are also increased reports of respiratory problems in Hayden and Craig.

Smoke from wildfires has particles and chemicals that can irritate a person's lungs, making it difficult to breathe and causing other respiratory problems such as coughing, wheezing, chest pain and eye, nose and throat irritation.

People that have health conditions such as asthma, emphysema and heart conditions are especially at risk, Ross said. He said local residents with those conditions should take their prescription medications regularly and should not be afraid to contact their doctors if their conditions worsen.

"If you do develop a cough, shortness of breath or wheezing, it would be good to contact your physicians," Ross said.

Young children, the elderly and people with respiratory infections such as colds or flus should also take special precautions if air quality in the region becomes worse from the fires.

If ash or smoke is visible, officials advise people stay indoors with the windows closed and use an air filter if they can.

If a significant amount of smoke can be seen in the air, even if it's far away, it is a good idea to keep outdoor exercise at a moderate level, officials said.

Susan Bowl, R.N., is the public health nurse manager for Routt and Moffatt counties. Bowl said the public health department has not received any health complaints about smoke yet but people should still be wary.

"Any time there's any large pollutants in the air, people with lung problems such as lung cancer, emphysema and asthma are more at risk of developing lung problems," Bowl said.

Conditions in Steamboat so far have not been unhealthy, said Michael Zopf, environmental health director for Routt County.

"I'm not seeing the types of (pollutant) levels that would indicate a risk to public health," Zopf said. "There has been quite a bit of material in the air but we have not approached the threshold that would indicate a violation of national ambient air quality standards for particulate matter."

The air quality standards Zopf referred to are set by the EPA and apply to the entire nation. The highest level that particulate matter 10 microns or less in size can reach over a 24-hour period is 150 micrograms of particulate in each cubic meter of air.

On Wednesday in Steamboat, Zopf said the level was about 40, which is typical for this type of year. He also said that even over the weekend when skies in the area were hazy, the amount of particulates in the area did not exceed the EPA threshold.

Zopf said he agreed that residents should still take caution, especially if conditions worsen or if fires flare up closer to the city.

"If you do have a respiratory problem," Zopf said, "(the smoke) certainly can be a problem."

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