Air quality near Clark worsens this week
North Routt Fire Protection District Chief Mike Swinsick said some residents near Clark have been wearing masks indoors for the past few days due to increased wildfire smoke, and many other area residents are closing up their homes and relying on air filtration machines.
District employees outside the No. 1 firehouse located near the Clark Store wore N95 quality masks yesterday due to the smoke that reduced visibility to a range of one-half to three-quarters of a mile and smelled strongly of forest fire, Swinsick said.
Fortunately, the district has not experienced an increase in smoke-related 911 calls or transports to medical facilities, Swinsick said. The chief said air quality at the No. 2 firehouse at Steamboat Lake, some 10 miles to the north, has not been as bad as in Clark.
“Most of the locals have been staying closed up and turning on air filtration systems or wearing masks inside their homes if not able to purify air,” Swinsick said. “Most folks in North Routt are pretty self-sufficient and adapt when they need to and take measures. There are still people out jogging and riding bikes but not as much as you typically see.”
Swinsick said air quality impacted by the current Morgan Creek Fire is usually the worst around Clark from just before dawn through noon and again from 6-9 p.m. due to local wind patterns. The fire expanded by 500 acres Wednesday to reach 7,049 acres, or about 11 square miles in size, according to fire officials.
“Air thermals bring the winds down in the morning. Prevailing winds tend to flow from northeast to southwest, or the daily ‘Zirkel Express,’” said Swinsick, noting that visitors the past few days have asked if there is a new, additional wildfire due to the increase in smoke.
The Air Pollution Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued an air quality advisory for wildfire smoke for North Routt County, Clark and the Glen Eden resort area from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday.
“If smoke is thick or becomes thick in your neighborhood, you may want to remain indoors,” according to the CDPHE alert. “This is especially true for those with heart disease, respiratory illnesses, the very young and the elderly. Consider limiting outdoor activity when moderate to heavy smoke is present. Consider relocating temporarily if smoke is present indoors and is making you ill. If visibility is less than 5 miles in smoke in your neighborhood, smoke has reached levels that are unhealthy.”
CDPHE officials said rain, including a thunderstorm in Clark on Wednesday afternoon, has improved smoke somewhat across the advisory area, but officials warn of lingering health impacts and advise against prolonged or heavy exertion during times of smoke.
Within the past two days, the PurpleAir.com monitor located at North Routt Community Charter School, peaked at 440 PM 2.5 air quality index, which equates to air quality approximately four times worse than the peak during the same timeframe for the air monitor at the Routt County Courthouse in downtown Steamboat Springs.
Steamboat Lake State Park Manager Julie Arington said the park has experienced some smoke-related cancellations, requests for refunds, people not showing up for reservations or visitors rebooking for later in the year. But other campers have backfilled many cancellations, and the park has stayed basically full with visitors and day-trippers, since smoke has impacted Clark more, Arington said.
Arington said some guests have come into park offices commenting about symptoms, such as burning eyes and dry, scratchy throats, but the staff has not dealt with any smoke-related health emergencies.
Lennae Jenkins, program director of the North Routt Community Charter School Early Childhood Center in Clark, said children in the mostly outdoor summer program have stayed inside for about the first two hours of the day for the past three weeks. The director regularly monitors smoke conditions from the center’s PurpleAir monitor, and field trips for the children to Steamboat and Hahns Peak lakes have provided some smoke relief, Jenkins said. She noted the center’s good quality air filtration machines purchased during the COVID-19 pandemic are also proving helpful during the wildfire smoke.
Since Jenkins commutes to work from Steamboat, she drives into smoke at about the Moon Hill Meadows neighborhood each morning.
“I literally can see myself driving into the smoke in the morning,” Jenkins said.
Morgan Creek Fire officials said heavy fuels are still burning in some areas.
“Fuels remain critically dry in the entire area, and the fire is situated in fuels that have heavy mortality due to insect infestation,” officials said.
For the latest Colorado smoke outlook, visit:
For more information about health symptoms related to wildfire smoke, visit:
For the latest Colorado statewide air quality conditions, forecasts and advisories, visit:
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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