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Eye On Boise

DEQ issues statewide air quality alert; all open burning banned, including campfires

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By 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. 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.

“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.”

When the air quality index rises into the red zone, defined as 151 to 200 AQI readings, it’s considered unhealthy; that compares to the 101-150 orange range, which is unhealthy for sensitive groups; and the 51-100 yellow or moderate range. The purple range, at 201 to 300, is “very unhealthy;” and at the highest range, maroon – 301 to 500 – the air is considered “hazardous.”

At unhealthy or red air quality levels, people are advised to limit prolonged outdoor exertion, according to the EPA; those with asthma or other respiratory conditions, children, older adults, and people who are active outdoors are particularly at risk. In the purple range, everyone’s at risk; at maroon, health warnings rise to emergency conditions.

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. There’s more air quality information online here, and information on the health effects of wildfire smoke online here.

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

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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