The air looked clear Monday after a weekend of smoke-filled skies, mostly from wildfires burning in Western states.
But residents and visitors in Southwest Colorado can expect more hazy skies until midweek.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued an air-quality alert for Monday through 9 a.m. Tuesday. The alert spans 17 Western Slope counties, including the five-county region of Southwest Colorado. Wildfire smoke can cause adverse health impacts for some people, and if symptoms appear, people are advised to limit their exposure to the smoke.
“Expect the heaviest smoke impacts in sheltered valley locations where atmospheric mixing is more limited,” said the air-quality alert relayed by the National Weather Service. “Some clearing is possible in areas of southern Colorado on Monday and Tuesday, however residual health impacts may linger from prolonged exposure to elevated smoke concentrations.”
As of Monday, 108 active large fires were burning in 15 states, most of which are in the western United States, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The largest fire, the Dixie Fire, is burning in two Northern California counties. At 489,287 acres in size Monday, it is the largest single wildfire recorded in the state’s history.
Weather systems pushed smoke from the fires into Durango this weekend, prompting an air-quality alert.
The air quality in Durango was moderate Monday afternoon, according to the U.S. Air Quality Index. At this level, people who are unusually sensitive should consider reducing their activity level and time spent being active outdoors.
In Cortez, air quality was expected to be moderate Monday and Tuesday.
People who are most affected by smoke can include elderly adults, young children, pregnant women, individuals with pre-existing circulatory conditions or allergies, and individuals with respiratory conditions or infections, according to CDPHE.
Symptoms to wildfire smoke can include eye, nose or throat irritation, coughing, trouble breathing and tightness of the chest.
Wildfire smoke is known to carry particulate matter that can enter the lungs and may contain irritating and cancer-causing compounds. It can also include organic compounds found in particulate matter from forest fires, called polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, which may be carcinogenic with extended exposure, CDPHE said.
A weather system moving through Wyoming is going to increase westerly winds and result in more smoke in western Colorado on Monday, said Matthew Aleksa, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
“This evening when that front moves through, the winds are going to shift and the smoke is going to move toward central and southern areas of Colorado and toward the Four Corners,” Aleksa said.
A high-pressure system, which produces dry conditions and clears skies, will trap smoke in the area. The smoke will likely remain at least through Wednesday morning, he said.
A weather system this weekend and early next week could bring winds in from the south and reduce wildfire smoke in Southwest Colorado, he said.
“Hopefully that’s enough to move that smoke out of here,” he said.
The weather system could also bring much-needed rain to the Four Corners. The San Juan Mountains could see precipitation Thursday and Friday, and lower elevations could see rain over the weekend.
Weeks of consistent showers helped improve fire conditions enough that the county dropped standing fire restrictions July 27. However on Sunday, weather conditions warranted a red flag warning, which indicates elevated fire risk.
Under a new ordinance, the county automatically declares Stage 1 fire restrictions on red flag warning days. These restrictions limit or prohibit open burning, campfires and other spark-producing activities.
Stage 1 fire restrictions were in effect Sunday and were dropped Monday.
“Under the new ordinance, Stage 1 fire restrictions are in effect for any red flag day, but it’s just for that day,” said La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith.
Community members can stay up to date with red flag warnings and changing restrictions by tuning into the La Plata County social media pages and fire restrictions web page.