Routt County fires ignite health concerns
September 5, 2017
An air quality health advisory was issued for Routt County Tuesday morning by the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment because of the smoke in the air caused by the Deep Creek and Big Red fires as well as other fires burning in the west.
Moffat, Grand, Jackson Rio Blanco, Garfield, Eagle, Mesa, Delta, Pitkin and Gunnison counties are also under an air quality advisory.
The warning confirmed what most people living in Steamboat Springs realized shortly after walking out their front door Tuesday morning.
"I think it stands out a little bit just because the fire is really close, and it's compounded by the smoke coming in — it would be hazy anyway even without this fire,” said Scott Cowman, Routt County environmental health director.
"The fact that we have a lot of fires burning out west and then all of the sudden we have one that is local is a little bit unusual from what I have seen, and I've been here since the early ’70s,” Cowman explained. “I can't recall it being any worse than this as far as haze goes, but there may have been a couple times when we had some localized burning."
The smoke in the air results in an increased risk of serious health concerns for many residents in the smoke's path.
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According to the CDPE, the diminished air quality is particularly dangerous for those dealing with heart disease, respiratory illnesses, the very young and the elderly. Those individuals should avoid prolonged or exertion.
Those living in affected areas should also consider limiting outdoor activity when moderate to heavy smoke is present, And the CDPE warns that smoke has reached unhealthy levels when visibility is less than five miles.
"I would say that everyone should try to stay inside as much as possible, and if you have an air conditioner, you should try to use that," said Bill Moore, director of respiratory therapy at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.
Moore recommends that people do their best to stay inside where they will be protected from many of the particulates in the smoke. He also suggested keeping car windows closed and using the air conditioner and the recycle air feature that can be found on many cars. He said he didn't want to tell people that they can't go outside, but he believes limiting exposure to the smoke, especially for children, the elderly and those with health concerns, is a good idea.
The smoke and haze has prompted the Steamboat Springs School District and Steamboat Springs Youth Soccer Association to make some changes to limit unnecessary exposure.
The school district cancelled the Sailors junior varsity football game against Summit County, which was set for Tuesday afternoon, and it has moved physical education classes and outdoor recesses inside for the elementary and middle schools.
"We are just trying to err on the side of caution," Superintendent Brad Meeks said. "The schools are identifying any students that may have respiratory issues and making sure that they stay inside, things like that."
Similar precautions are taking place at the North Routt Community Charter School, which is caught between two of the biggest fires in the county.
Rob Bohlmann, director of the Steamboat Springs Youth Soccer Association, cancelled soccer practices, and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club cancelled dry land training programs.
"It wasn't like we made a quick, fast decision," Bohlmann said. "I think a big part of it was two factors. One, just hearing about the elementary schools making decision to keep recess and any activities all indoors, and then everything you are hearing about the warnings and things to consider with younger people."
The association has decided to push back the start of its U6, U8 and U10 programs, which were slated to begin Tuesday afternoon, by a week.
Competitive teams will also take a break, but Bohlmann said he isn't sure for how long. He said the association will monitor the conditions and contact players and parents depending on the conditions.
"With competitive soccer, we have canceled practices for today, and it's going to have to be a one day at a time thing," he said. "We will continue to do some fact finding, and see what the appropriate thing to do is — we have league games that are coming up on Saturday. I think we will have to see what is the weather is going to do, what kind of control do they get on this fire, or not. I think high school athletics, youth lacrosse, youth soccer and everybody we are going to be able to get on the same page and figure out what the best thing is to do as we move forward."
Cowman agrees that it's a good idea for all residents to take a little break from strenuous outdoor activities.
"I guess I equate it to, I don't smoke cigarettes, but maybe that ride today would be the equivalent of smoking a few cigarettes or something,” Cowman said. “It's not something that's going to kill you or have that many adverse effects, but you are probably better off staying inside for a couple of days until things mellow out."