Wildfires

Wildfires produce large amounts of smoke, which can pollute the air with harmful particulate matter. [courtesy USFS]

The Pack Creek Fire has subsided to minimal interior burning, but continuing high temperatures and smokey conditions attest that wildfire season continues in the West. Where has all the smoke this week been coming from?

There are active wildfires near Moab, in Utah, Colorado, and Arizona; but officials from the National Weather Service office in Grand Junction, which provides predictive services for Grand County, said most of the smoke is from the large fires in Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho.

“A large area of high pressure over the Four Corners and Great Basin areas lofted the smoke from the western fires into the atmosphere,” NWS staff told the Moab Sun News in an email. “Northwesterly wind over eastern Utah has blown said smoke towards our area.”

The Bootleg Fire in Oregon is over 200,000 acres; the Beckwourth Complex Fire in California has burned over 92,000 acres; in Washington, the Lick Creek Fire has burned over 58,000 acres, and in Idaho, the Snake River Complex Fire has burned over 88,000 acres. Dozens more fires across the west are adding to the smoke.

NWS officials warned that the smoke can be a health concern. The Utah Division of Air Quality says smoke from wildfires can cause burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses like bronchitis, and can aggravate conditions like chronic heart disease and lung disease. The DAQ recommends reducing outdoor activity on smokey days.

There will likely be some relief from the smoke in the later part of this week.

“A series of disturbances will weaken the strong ridge of high pressure over the next couple of days,” NWS officials wrote on Tuesday. “As a result, the smoke should dissipate and conditions will improve. High pressure will resume this weekend but eastern Utah will remain under southwesterly flow, so the smoke is not expected to return at this time.”

There’s no predicting what will happen later this summer, experts say. It will depend on where large fires get established and weather patterns in the atmosphere.