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Smoke From Big Wildfires Causing Unhealthy Air Quality in Utah

UTAH COUNTY, Utah – Smoke from big wildfires across the west, including several in Utah, continues to make the air in many parts of the state unhealthy to breathe. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of places we can go to get away from it.

Air quality has been miserable this week on the Wasatch Front, especially in Utah County where two wildfires sent a lot of smoke into the air. This is one of the smokiest years in the last two decades. But, we’ve seen a lot of smoke in many past summers, too.

“It really does vary from day to day, depending on which way the wind is blowing and where the fires are located,” said Bryce Bird, air quality director for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

To many people in Utah, this may seem like the smokiest summer ever. So, we looked at the data with Bird. He showed us smoke pollution data going back 17 years, and all Utah monitoring stations going back two years.

“I think we have a short memory,” he said. “As we look at the actual air monitoring data we know that we had many days last summer that were impacted by smoke, and that trend has gone on over time.”

Last summer, at this time, and in September there were extended spikes in the smoke pollution, PM 2.5 and ozone pollution enhanced by the smoke.

“We saw several smoke events last year,” Bird said, “some lasting a week or more, and some lasting multiple weeks.”

Based on air quality readings on the KSL air quality network, and the Utah Air app we took a drive to find blue sky. Utah County was in the red this morning, and has had the worst air in the state for a couple of days because of two nearby wildfires. So, we headed north to Cache County where there was a green air quality reading this morning.

Along the Wasatch Front: smoky air, with little blue sky visible. In Cache County, at least today, much less smoke. Still some haze, but, much more pleasant. You can see the mountains across the valley.

“We are moderately clean. But, down along the Wasatch Front we’re not,” said Dr. Randy Martin, an associate professor at Utah State University in Logan, who studies air quality.

“It all just depends on ultimately where the wind is going to blow it, whether it’s going to be cleaner here or down there,” he said, referring to the Wasatch Front. “More than likely it’s going to be cleaner up here because we’re not as close to the fires.”

With smoke pollution, he says there’s no guarantee that cleaner air will last. In the winter, when our particulate pollution is trapped by a temperature inversion, we can head up to the mountains to get away. That’s not the case with smoky air in the summer.

“As long as we’ve got these regional fires, and not the ground level inversions, wherever you go it could be bad,” said Martin.

So, if you’re looking for a better place to breathe, use these resources for air quality: the KSL Air Quality network on the KSL weather page, and the Utah Air app.

 

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