GOSHEN COUNTY – Wyoming was hit with a heavy haze of smoke from wildfires in Montana and the surrounding area, prompting official health alerts and impacts across the state.
As fires raged in Montana and across the Pacific Northwest, a high-pressure system typical of this time of year drove the smoke south and east, said Chris Hammer, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Cheyenne.
“It was a typical summertime weather pattern,” he said. “It carried the smoke in our direction.”
While the smoke made for some dramatic sunrises and sunsets for a couple of days, it apparently had minimal impact across the state. Lt. Doug Wagener with the Wyoming Highway Patrol said Tuesday, beyond some personal allergy problems, he wasn’t aware of any accidents or travel delays due to the smoky conditions.
Likewise, Goshen County Sheriff Don Murphy said no reports have crossed his desk of any negative impacts in the county.
“But we definitely saw an increase in particulate matter associated with the smoke across the state,” said Keith Gill, spokesperson for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. “We’re still confirming numbers but it was definitely higher than what we’ve seen. We even saw it here in Cheyenne.”
A cold front moved through the area Monday into Tuesday, which helped clear some of the smoke and divert the remainder from the eastern Wyoming region, Hammer said.
“That helped kind of scour it out, getting that real deep smokeyness out of the air,” he said. “We’re heading into the time of year where we’ll start to get stronger cold fronts, which helps cool it down and does at least limit the potential for some of these fires.”
That doesn’t mean the region is definitely in the clear, though, Hammer said. While the short-term forecast points to conditions that will continue to prevent the smoke from traveling this far east, nothing is written in stone.
The smoke “could come back,” he said. “It’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility. But, at least for a couple of days, we’ll have some cleaner air.
“And, looking ahead, the weather pattern to me doesn’t look all that unusual – it’s still pretty warm and dry (in the areas where the fires are),” Hammer said. “It doesn’t look like there’ll be a lot of relief for the fire situation, at least in the near future.”
While not everyone has the same sensitivity to wildfire smoke, it’s still a good idea to avoid breathing smoke if you can help it, according to the website AirNow.gov, a service of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. And when smoke is heavy, such as can occur in close proximity to a wildfire, it’s bad for everyone.
Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic materials burn. The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles. These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into your lungs. They can cause a range of health problems, from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases. Exposure to particle pollution is even linked to premature death.
Some people are more at risk
It’s especially important for you to pay attention to local air quality reports during a fire if you are:
• A person with heart or lung disease, such as heart failure, angina, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or asthma.
• An older adult, which makes you more likely to have heart or lung disease than younger people.
• Caring for children, including teenagers, because their respiratory systems are still developing, they breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults, they’re more likely to be active outdoors, and they’re more likely to have asthma.
• A person with diabetes, because you are more likely to have underlying cardiovascular disease.
• A pregnant woman, because there could be potential health effects for both you and the developing fetus.
High concentrations of smoke can trigger a range of symptoms.
• Anyone may experience burning eyes, a runny nose, cough, phlegm, wheezing and difficulty breathing.
• If you have heart or lung disease, smoke may make your symptoms worse
• People with heart disease might experience chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, or fatigue.
• People with lung disease may not be able to breathe as deeply or as vigorously as usual, and may experience symptoms such as coughing, phlegm, chest discomfort, wheezing and shortness of breath.