Wildfire smoke has settled across Southwest Colorado, exacerbating record-high temperatures with an oppressive heat.
The Pine Gulch Fire in Grand Junction, now the second-largest fire in state history at over 125,000 acres, is contributing to poor air quality in the Four Corners.
“I also think we’re getting smoke from California,” said Matt Shethar, wildlands coordinator for the Cortez Fire Protection District.
Maps that track wildfire smoke and wind movement through various agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency, show wildfires burning in New Mexico, Arizona and even California have created the haze over Southwest Colorado.
“It’s part of living in the Western United States,” Shethar said.
Smoke from northern areas, including Grand Junction, is unusual for this corner of the state because of wind flow patterns. But a storm front from Utah hit the smoke clouds burgeoning over Colorado, and pushed ash and smoke to Southwest Colorado.
The air-quality index value was about 153 over a six-hour period Thursday. That is compared to a AQI value of 47 for the past seven days. According to the PurpleAir monitor and data from the EPA, “Everyone may experience health effects if they are exposed for 24 hours,” and members of “sensitive groups,” such as people with lung conditions, may experience more serious health effects.
The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment tweeted Wednesday that symptoms of COVID-19 and wildfire smoke exposure can overlap, such as a cough or a scratchy throat.
But wildfire smoke also can make people more prone to lung infections like COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s because wildfire smoke irritates the lungs and causes inflammation, affecting the immune system.
The CDC recommends limiting outdoor exercise when it is smoky. People with compromised immune systems should “seek cleaner air shelters and cleaner air spaces,” such as a room with an air filter.
Additionally, masks that are used to slow the spread of COVID-19 will not protect wearers from wildfire smoke, according to the CDC. Normal face coverings do not catch the small, harmful particles in smoke that are harmful to public health.
N95 respirators provide protection from wildfire smoke, but they are in short supply as frontline health care workers use them to treat COVID-19 patients.
The Grizzly Creek Fire, the Cameron Peak Fire and the Williams Fork Fire continue to burn with low containment levels at 29,732 acres, 15,738 acres and 9,457 acres, respectively.