Health precautions advised as haze lingers |

Health precautions advised as haze lingers

A Chinook helicopter heads to Steamboat Springs Airport on Thursday after dropping water on the Silver Creek Fire. The helicopter can drop about 2,000 gallon of water that it scoops up at Red Dirt Pass.
Matt Stensland

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s smoky out. So what does that mean for your health?

The best approach is to limit exposure as much as possible, said Anne Eckhardt, a registered respiratory therapist with UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.

People with heart and lung disease (including COPD or asthma) or those who tend to be more sensitive to air pollution are most at risk, she said, as are children, the elderly and pregnant women.

Eckhardt recommends staying indoors and limiting strenuous activities when outside. Drinking plenty of water also helps flush out the system.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued an air quality health advisory for wildfire smoke for a large portion of western Colorado, including Routt and surrounding counties. The advisory goes through Friday morning.

Wildfires in Northern California are causing the thick smoke.

While the nearby Silver Creek Fire is not causing the haze in Steamboat Springs, it did grow to 1,319 acres as of Thursday afternoon. A Chinook helicopter arrived Wednesday to assist in suppression efforts, which now include 100 personnel.

Current air quality levels don’t dictate a major public health issue, Routt County Environmental Health Director Scott Cowman said Thursday. That’s according to a device on top of the Routt County Courthouse that measures PM10, or particulate matter 10 micrometers or less in diameter.

But prolonged smoke exposure can lead to health problems, he said, and it is important to have “heightened awareness with your decisions and what you do outside.”

Eckhardt and Cowman noted that everyone reacts differently and should pay close attention to individual symptoms.

“If you are used to going on a run or a bike ride every day, think twice,” Cowman said. “And if you do go, pay attention and monitor your symptoms.”

Symptoms could include burning eyes, runny nose, cough, dry throat, phlegm or difficulty breathing, Eckhardt said, and those are signs your body is reacting to the particulates in the air. Don’t rely on dust masks, Eckhardt said, as they don’t provide protection.

While in the car, use the recirculate option for ventilation.

While inside, it is better to keep windows and doors closed, she said, and avoid activities that increase indoor air pollution, like vacuuming or frying food.

The good news, said Cowman, is that all it takes is a little rain or a shift in wind direction, and the smoke can clear up relatively quickly. Scattered thunderstorms are forecast for Friday and Saturday.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email or follow her on Twitter @KariHarden

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