Posts tagged: Air quality
The familiar scent of wildfire smoke began wafting into town yesterday, and today it’s noticeably smoky in Boise. Smoke from the Whiskey Complex of fires in the Garden Valley area, along with some from fires in Oregon, filtered into the Treasure Valley overnight, and higher-level air flows are bringing in smoke from fires in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Canada. “We seem to be getting a significant amount more smoke in the valley than we anticipated,” said Mike Toole, regional airshed coordinator for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.
And here’s the bad news: Tomorrow likely will be worse, and it’ll stick around. “We’re definitely going to have these smoke impacts lingering for the foreseeable future,” Toole said. “It could be a couple of weeks. … Just with the sheer amount of fires and where they’re located, we could be seeing smoke impacts for quite a while.”
Idaho City and Garden Valley hit red alert levels for air quality due to wildfire smoke today; that’s defined as unhealthy for everyone. Boise’s air quality was registering in the good-to-moderate range at mid-day; Idaho City was in the red zone. See real-time air monitoring online here from the Idaho DEQ; and smoke forecasts here. Tomorrow is predicted to be in the moderate range in Boise; the forecast warns that high-level smoke likely will settle in the Treasure Valley this evening after the sun sets. “We’re going to kind of see the same thing for a while,” Toole said.
Yep, it's looking awfully smoky out in Boise, and now comes this word from the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare: Air quality in some parts of the central Idaho mountains has reached the “unhealthy” or “unhealthy for sensitive groups” level, and they're alerting people to limit outdoor activity. “The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is forecasting unhealthy levels for areas of Boise, Elmore, Blaine, Camas and Custer counties,” H&W says in a news release. “Because of wildfire activity and weather patterns, air quality conditions are not expected to significantly improve through this week.” Click below for the full H&W announcement, which also advises drinking plenty of water, avoiding heavy work or exercise outdoors when air quality hits unhealthy levels, and taking care for the very young or old and those with respiratory conditions.
Boise was only predicted to be moderate today, but Mary Anderson, smoke management program coordinator for the DEQ, said, “Based on visibility downtown, it's more likely into the unhealthy for sensitive groups or possibly in some areas unhealthy. The closer we get to kind of where the smoke is coming down from the mountains is where it's the unhealthy.”
Anderson said the DEQ issued a Stage 1 air pollution forecast and caution today after monitors in Idaho City, Garden Valley, Ketchum, Lowman, Atlanta and Challis all went into the unhealthy or unhealthy for sensitive groups zone. “It's basically from the Elk Complex and Pony Complex fires,” Anderson said. “They're heading north. … Basically all the mountain valleys are getting impacted. It's pretty widespread.” Idaho's interagency smoke blog has been activated here; it has links and info on smoke impacts.
The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has issued a statewide Stage 1 air quality alert, banning open burning all through the state. It's in effect through the weekend; conditions will be re-evaluated Monday morning on a county-by-county basis. The ban includes campfires, recreational, warming, weed control, cooking, and residential fires. “Air quality is generally in the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups to Unhealthy categories throughout the central and southern parts of the state,” said DEQ Smoke Management Program Coordinator Mary Anderson. “Air quality in the northern Idaho Panhandle is forecasted to be in the good to moderate range; however, stagnant conditions will likely cause smoke from open burning to remain at ground level.” Click below for the full alert from DEQ.
Yuck. The sunrise was bright orange again, and now the sky is brown. Wildfire smoke is settling densely over the Treasure Valley, pushing air pollution levels up. Today's air quality is predicted to be in the “upper moderate” range, a range that stretches from 50 to 100 AQI, up from yesterday's AQI of 64. Moderate, or yellow, air quality falls short of the next range, orange, or “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” This morning's 9 a.m. readings included 113.6 at Boise Fire Station No. 5; 84 in Meridian; and 84 in Nampa. Dave Luft of the Idaho DEQ said, “We're hovering right between the yellow and the orange right now. … The prognosis going forward is that we may get a break come Saturday, but that's kind of iffy.” Personally, I've had a bad scratchy throat since yesterday morning, and I'm not even in any sensitive groups. Time to pray for rain…
Well, the Treasure Valley's break from the wildfire smoke lasted exactly 11 days, and then yesterday, smoke came pouring back in, this time from the opposite direction, the northwest. Air quality broke out of the “good” category into the “moderate” range yesterday, and that's where it remains this morning. “There are a whole bunch of fires,” said Mike Toole, regional airshed coordinator for the Idaho DEQ. “There are three wildfires up kind of by McCall. And then Washington over the weekend got a thunderstorm and there's a bunch of fires up in Washington now. So with the winds coming out of the northwest, it was blowing all that smoke toward us.”
Things could improve a bit today. “We have some smoke in the valley now,” Toole said. “'Based on what we're seeing … this afternoon after the morning inversion breaks, we'll hopefully get some more clearing.” Winds have switched to a southeasterly direction, he noted.
“The forecast for tomorrow looks like we're still going to have the southeasterly wind component, so tomorrow it looks like it clears up fairly good. But Saturday switches back to northwesterly wind,” Toole said. “That could push the smoke right back into us.” He added, “We did have a nice couple-week break, but there's a lot of new fires going on.”
Air quality in Lemhi and Custer counties has hit the “very unhealthy” category, prompting warnings from the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare to stay indoors as much as possible; older adults, young children and those with medical conditions will be most affected, but it's bad enough that everyone is being advised to avoid heavy work or exercise outdoors in the affected areas. “Salmon's getting inundated with smoke,” said Mike Toole of the Idaho DEQ. “They're in the 'very unhealthy' category continually.”
Meanwhile, the Treasure Valley's air has improved so much that it's actually inched into the green or “good” category, though the forecast was for it to stay in the yellow or “moderate” range. Current pollution is in the 40s on the air quality index, at the high end of the “good” category that ends at 50. “The forecasts we made were actually high,” Toole said. “It's fantastic. … We've actually experienced a lot better air quality than we anticipated.” Favorable wind and weather conditions have cleared the valley's air so well that even when changing conditions bring smoke back in, it's likely not to get as bad as it's been in recent weeks, Toole said.
Because wildfire smoke is such a highly visible pollutant, people who live in areas without air monitors can tell how bad it gets just by looking. “If visibility is reduced to less than eight miles, sensitive groups should limit activity,” Health & Welfare advises in a statement today. “If visibility is reduced to less than three miles, air quality is considered unhealthy for everyone. Visibility of less than one mile is considered hazardous and everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors.” People in Salmon who lack air conditioning are being advised to visit the Salmon Public Library or Salmon Valley Baptist Church for relief from the smoke; click below for Health & Welfare's full advisory.
The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has issued a Stage 1 Air Quality Alert for 10 southern Idaho counties, including mandatory bans on all open burning. The counties affected are Ada, Boise, Canyon, Elmore, Gem, Owyhee, Payette, Washington, Lemhi and Custer. The DEQ has also issued a caution that unhealthy air quality will continue at least until mid-day tomorrow, and everyone should limit exertion outdoors. The pollution, in the form of PM 2.5 fine particulates, is from smoke from multiple wildfires in northern California, southern Oregon, northern Nevada and, closer to home, southwestern Idaho.
In the good news, the brush fire that kicked up this afternoon off Cartwright Road, the Ourada Fire, has been knocked down at 419 acres, the BLM reports, and crews are mopping up; no structures were damaged. When that fire started around 11:30 this morning, we went outside to take a look, but couldn't see it. The reason? It was already too smoky.
The Treasure Valley's air quality has gotten so bad - with an orange air quality alert issued by the state DEQ - that tonight's scheduled k.d. lang concert at the Eagle River Pavilion has been canceled. CTTouring announced the cancellation “due to the poor air quality in the Treasure Valley and the DEQ orange air quality alert suggesting that people stay inside;” click below for their full announcement. The DEQ has posted tips here for people to reduce their exposure to wildfire smoke and protect their health. Yesterday's air quality index of 104 and today's predicted level of 110 both fall into the orange, or unhealthy, range. Children and people with asthma are considered to be most at risk; all outdoor burning is banned in Ada and Canyon counties.
Possible changes to Idaho's field-burning regulations still are up in the air after an advisory panel of farmers, health advocates and regulators agreed today that some weekend burning could be considered, but couldn't reach a consensus on whether to allow more burning when ozone pollution levels are high. Patti Gora-McRavin of Safe Air For Everyone said, “It's a life and death issue for us. It is the line in the sand.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Based on the advisory group's discussions, both today and in an all-day meeting last month, Idaho DEQ Air Quality Division Administrator Martin Bauer will make a recommendation to DEQ Director Curt Fransen, who will decide in late May whether to launch a negotiated rule-making process to make changes in Idaho's field-burning rules.
Trace levels of radioactive iodine-131 have now been detected in air, drinking water, rainwater and milk in Idaho, the state DEQ, Department of Agriculture and Department of Health & Welfare report in a joint news release, but “the levels detected are far below levels of public health concern.” The I-131, from the nuclear disaster in Japan, first was detected on March 21 in an air sample in Boise. Mark Dietrich, the Idaho DEQ's emergency response program coordinator, said, “At no point have detected levels come close to levels of concern.” You can read more here.