Wildfires create hazy skies in Utah

Wildfires create hazy skies in Utah

31 August 2006

published by www.heraldextra.com

Provo, UT, USA — The mountains at the south end of Utah County are barely visible from south Provo, thanks to a white haze blanketing the area.

The haze isn’t a health risk, said Bryce Bird, an air standards branch manager with the state’s Division of Air Quality; air quality is still listed as good throughout the Wasatch Front. It’s actually from smoke a northwest wind is bringing in from fires in the Pacific Northwest, central Idaho and Yost, in the northwest corner of the state. A couple of small fires in the area are contributing as well.

One of those local fires, in Utah County, was contained Thursday afternoon after burning 316 acres south of Saratoga Springs, said Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Teresa Rigby. It was sparked by a lightning strike Wednesday night. It came close to explosive bunkers and a couple of homes, but slowed as it got close to the structures because it hit an area that had already been scorched once this summer in another fire.

“Because of the size of the particles associated with wildfires, the visibility impact is much greater than the air quality weight impact that we would find on our filters,” Bird said.

PM 2.5, a pollutant generally associated with smoke, is registering barely into the moderate range, and the Lindon air quality sensor registered PM 10 as a 92, which is the middle of the moderate range. That is most likely from the local fires, he said. There’s still no health risk, though, for people who want to be outside.

Even with the haze, Thursday’s air was better than some days throughout the summer, when the repressive heat increased ozone production and people with lung conditions were advised to stay indoors.

“We actually have had a few days that are getting close to being bad,” said Dr. Joseph Miner, director of the Utah County Health Department.

He had not been notified of any health risks from the haze and said generally summer in Utah actually meant better air; once cooler weather arrives it brings inversion season with it. An inversion, which results when warm air traps cool air and the pollutants under it, is a frequent happening in the mountain valleys of Utah.

“That’s when we see the health issues,” Bird agreed.

For now, the haze was just a factor to be dealt with throughout all of northern Utah, but not a cause for concern. Bird said he didn’t know how long Utahns could expect the smoky layer, but the state’s smoke management program’s weekly smoke report indicated it wasn’t going anywhere.

“The bottom line of that report was that we could expect to see continued hazy skies in Utah,” he said.


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