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Idaho DEQ issues rare statewide air quality alert; bans all open burning

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 5, 2017, 8:10 p.m.

Boise saw an eerie, smoky sunrise Tuesday as wildfire smoke blanketed the state, prompting a rare statewide air quality alert. (Betsy Z. Russell)
Boise saw an eerie, smoky sunrise Tuesday as wildfire smoke blanketed the state, prompting a rare statewide air quality alert. (Betsy Z. Russell)

BOISE – The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has issued a rare statewide air quality advisory, running through 10 a.m. Thursday, banning all open burning statewide including campfires.

“Air quality is in the moderate to very unhealthy categories throughout most of the state, and is forecast to remain that way for the next 24 to 48 hours,” the DEQ said in a news release. Under the statewide advisory – which applies everywhere except Indian reservation lands, which have their own regulations – all open burning is prohibited, including campfires, recreational fires, weed control burning and residential burning. Only activities associated with fire suppression are exempt.

Wildfires both near and far are contributing to the state’s heavy blanket of smoke, as are stagnant weather conditions that include near-record high temperatures. “It’s just hammering the Treasure Valley,” Mike Toole, airshed coordinator for the DEQ, said Tuesday. “This morning, holy cow – we went really high.”

Boise’s air quality, at 161, shot unexpectedly into the red or unhealthy range on Tuesday morning; other parts of the state, including North Idaho, had even higher readings, going into the purple or very-unhealthy range, or even the maroon or hazardous range. Coeur d’Alene’s AQI on Tuesday morning hit 235 at 9 a.m., well into the very-unhealthy range; Lewiston hit an even higher 266. St. Maries, Idaho registered 310- hazardous - at 1 p.m.

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“That’s where we’re going to be today, tomorrow, and probably Thursday as well,” Toole said. Late Thursday and Friday morning, a weather system could ease the conditions, he said, but, “Unfortunately, this is what we’re going to see for the next few days.”

The Idaho DEQ said when Thursday morning arrives, conditions will be evaluated again on a county-by-county basis across the state to determine if advisories should continue.

Toole said statewide air quality advisories are rare in Idaho but not unprecedented; the last one was issued in August of 2015.