Posts tagged: smoke
Foul-smelling smoke from a huge wildfire in northern California that's burned hundreds of homes and other structures rolled into Boise this morning, limiting visibility, diminishing air quality and staining the sky a brownish-grey. “With the way the jet stream’s going and the wind patterns, we got hit with the plume from the California fire that’s getting all the press,” said Dave Luft, Idaho DEQ air quality manager for southwestern Idaho. As for air quality, “ We’re well into the yellow or moderate category.”
Luft said the smoke likely will clear up some this afternoon, and it could vary throughout the day with showers and other weather changes. “When it warms up, we’ll start to get better ventilation, and it will thin out a bit,” he said. A change in the weather is expected tomorrow that should alter the wind patterns and clear up Boise’s skies.
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.
Looking for some outdoor adventure over the holiday weekend, but want to avoid the wildfire smoke? Longtime Idaho outdoors writer Steve Steubner has some suggestions here at his blog, Stueby’s Outdoor Journal. Among them: Five easy-to-access kid-friendly lakes in the McCall area; camping near Cascade and McCall; and Salmon River beaches upstream of Riggins.
Stuebner also has posted a really enlightening NASA image that shows where the smoke plume from California’s Rim Fire near Yosemite flows in Idaho.
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.
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.