The ethereal smoke and haze lingering over Durango will not affect race conditions for the upcoming USA Pro Cycling Challenge, event organizers and public health experts say.
Festivities started Thursday night, and Stage 1 of the professional race will kick off at 10 a.m. Monday on Main Avenue in downtown Durango.
The normally clear Colorado air has been clouded in recent days by smoke rising from forest fires elsewhere in the West.
As of Thursday afternoon, there were 49 fires actively burning to the north and west of Colorado, mostly in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and California, the National Interagency Fire Center reported.
Because the blazes are hundreds of miles away, however, the smoke is mostly diffused by the time it reaches Durango airspace, said Christopher Dann, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Thus, the haze seen locally is more a visual inconvenience than a legitimate health risk.
While much of the state was under smoke advisory warnings in June during the height of this summer’s fire season, Dann said, that isn’t the case now.
“If smoke density rises to the point we think it’s a public health concern, we’d issue an advisory. But we haven’t done so during (August) anywhere in Colorado,” he said.
Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the haze’s longevity is because of a front of high atmospheric pressure that is pushing smoky air in a clockwise direction from the Pacific Northwest toward Colorado.
“In all likelihood, it’ll still be hazy (Monday) – no bluebird skies,” he said. “It may take awhile for the smoke to flush out.”
Race officials said the less-than-ideal visibility hasn’t impeded preparations and won’t be a problem for cyclists’ lungs or for NBC television crews covering the event.
“Air quality is fine for the riders. We’ll still get great pictures of the race,” said Mary Monroe, co-chairman of Durango’s Local Organizing Committee. “But it’d be nice to get some rain Saturday or Sunday to clear the air.”
Two Durango physicians participating in the Physiology in the Park event Thursday evening at Rotary Park, a series of health demonstrations, agreed that air quality would not be an issue for the pro cyclists.
“World champions probably won’t be affected unless they have an underlying problem such as asthma,” said Dr. Ed Razma, a pulmonologist with Four Corners Sleep Disorders Center at Mercy Regional Medical Center.
“It’s a question of how much (smoke) they breathe versus how much is in the atmosphere,” said Dr. Bruce Andrea, a cardiologist with Cardiology Performance in Durango. “(The smoke) may be so high that we see it but it won’t impact us.”
Monroe praised the dedication of volunteers for making a spectacle of this magnitude possible.
“We’re firing on all cylinders. People have been working so hard for the last nine months, and all their efforts are going to show (this weekend),” she said.
Mother Nature has not been cooperative during either of Durango’s major cycling extravaganzas this year. In May, riders in the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic were buffeted by gusty winds as they pedaled to Silverton.
firstname.lastname@example.org Herald Staff Writer Dale Robebaugh contributed to this report.