WILDFIRE

Smoke from fires in Utah and beyond impacts western air quality

Jul 12, 2022, 7:00 PM
A dark mountainside burns with the Little Dell Fire....
The Little Dell Fire burns on July 11, 2022. It is one of several fires contributing to poor air quality in northern Utah. Photo credit: Unified Fire Authority.

SALT LAKE CITY — Wildfire smoke over the Salt Lake Valley Tuesday helped drive air quality to a range considered “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” 

KSL meteorologist Matt Johnson said some of that smoke comes from as far away as Alaska, held hostage over Utah courtesy of a high-pressure system. The same system is also keeping temperatures hot across the region. An extreme heat warning remains in place through Thursday at midnight. 

All told, more acres have burned in Alaska than typically would burn nationwide during an entire fire season. 

“2.6 million acres already burned just within the last two and a half months in Alaska,” Johnson said. “Typically, the whole United States in the whole season burns about 2, 2 and a half million acres.” 

Smoke adds to poor air quality

The smoke, both locally and from farther away, contributed to a visible haze over the Wasatch Front. Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality, told Jeff Caplan’s Afternoon News smoke can add to ozone levels. 

“The fine particulate matter is elevated, but of particular concern, today and during the summertime, is ozone values,” Bird said. “Smoke contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone, which is the urban smog that we tend to experience on these stagnant, hot summer days.” 

While we can’t do much about the smoke wafting into the region, Bird recommends taking action to improve air quality with the things we can control. 

“Reducing what we add to the air pollution by not driving — that’s certainly one component of that,” he said.

Beyond that, he recommended protecting yourself from poor air quality, particularly if you suffer from underlying health conditions. 

“Maybe move our activities indoors or later in the evening or early in the morning, because the ozone tends to peak with the heating of the day,” he said.  

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Smoke from fires in Utah and beyond impacts western air quality