Haze likely coming from Arizona, Utah

Winds bringing in smoke from fires in neighboring states


— The smoke that filled the skies in and around Steamboat Springs Friday came from wildfires, but not from fires close to home.

As of Friday, there were no wildfires in Routt County, Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble said.

The smoke was probably not even from fires within the state, such those near Durango, Denver and Glenwood Springs.

Rather, smoke most likely traveled from fires burning in Arizona and Utah, said Christopher Dann, a public information officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The Arizona Rodeo fire has burned about 85,000 acres so far, and Dann said winds Friday were blowing into Steamboat from the southwest and so could easily bring the smoke up through Colorado.

Wind can carry smoke particles for very long distances over a short time. Dann said by the night the Hayman fire near Denver started growing, smoke from the fire was already creating haze in Wyoming and the Dakotas.

Dann also said the smoky haze now in Steamboat is an example of a regional problem: Many areas in Colorado are experiencing high levels of smoke from the fires and probably will continue to have haze for the next days or weeks.

"We're in a situation right now throughout the state where areas of the state are likely to see smoke impacts from time to time for the next several weeks," Dann said. "A fire doesn't necessarily have to be burning near you for that to occur."

Friday the level of particulate matter in the air around Steamboat was about double the level it usually is, said Mike Zopf, environmental health director for Routt County.

Amounts of airborne particles that are less than 10 microns in size are tracked throughout the nation to ensure regions are not exceeding EPA standards for this pollutant. The 24-hour EPA standard for these particles is 150 micrograms of particulate per cubic meter of air.

In Steamboat, these pollutants are monitored by a device that sits on the top of the courthouse annex in the center of town. Levels recorded Friday were about 100. Usually at this time of year, levels are around 50.

These numbers are still less than the levels of more than 380 that were recorded at certain periods around Denver because of the Hayman fire, Dann said.

For Steamboat, these triple-digit amounts of particulate pollution because of wildfires are not common.

"To my knowledge, we haven't seen this level of regional haze or regional smoke in our valley," Zopf said. "I've been here 25 years and I don't recall seeing it."

Along with the smoke come health warnings from local doctors and state health officials.

Smoke from wildfires has particles and chemicals that can irritate a person's lungs and cause coughing, wheezing, chest pain, difficulty breathing and eye, nose and throat irritation.

Public health officials have said if visibility is less than five miles like it was in Steamboat Friday air quality is probably at unhealthy levels.

During these conditions, medical officials recommend people take precautions such as limiting outdoor exercise.

"We don't want to alarm people," Zopf said. "But the key point is that if visibility is less than five miles, think about restricting activity."

If people are in areas where they can smell smoke and begin to feel symptoms such as coughing or irritation of their eyes, nose or throat, they should stay indoors with the windows closed until the smoke recedes.

People who have health conditions such as asthma, emphysema and heart conditions, or who are very young or elderly, are especially at risk, officials said.

The best rule of thumb is to be cautious and call a doctor if symptoms are experienced.

"I think everybody just needs to be sensible and take care," public health nurse Pam Nettleton said. "If it doesn't feel good you shouldn't be outside sucking that air."

For more information, call the Visiting Nurse Association at 824-8233, Routt County Department of Environmental Health at 879-0185 or a local health-care provider. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has

more information online at http://apcd.state.co.us.

To reach Susan Bacon call 871-4206

or e-mail intern@steamboatpilot.com


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