Wildfires start to affect Aspen’s air quality | AspenTimes.com

Wildfires start to affect Aspen’s air quality

Haze from a growing number of western wildfires is starting to affect Aspen's air quality.

The distinct and somewhat alarming smell of smoke was in the air at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday in the midvalley, and sunrises and sunsets have taken on a bit of the telltale orange tinge from smoke in the air.

"I could see the haze over the Elk Mountains this morning," said Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson on Wednesday. He said smoke from several wildfires in California was likely affecting the atmosphere.

Norv Larson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said a wildfire in southwest Utah also was likely contributing to haze in the Colorado mountains because of the way a high-pressure system has set up. It's unlikely that a fire near Walden is affecting air quality in the Aspen area, he said.

So far, the haze hasn't blanketed the Roaring Fork Valley skies as it has in past summers. It's impossible to tell how air quality will be affected because there are many unknown factors — how big the wildfires get, how many more erupt and how much moisture the West gets, Larson said.

"Suffice it to say, it's going to remain hazy as these fires continue," he said.

Thompson said fire conditions in the Roaring Fork Valley are "moderate" right now because so much vegetation remains alive and green.

"We're in really good shape," he said.

But the recent warm spell has pushed the mercury to near and above 90 degrees, so conditions could change. Cloud cover will drop the temperature by 3 to 5 degrees for the Aspen area over the next few days, so temperatures will be in the mid-80s, Larson said. There will be a chance for afternoon showers. Starting this weekend, the forecast calls for a "prolonged dry period" for the Aspen area, he said. The 10-day outlook appears mostly dry.

The Aspen Volunteer Fire Department sent a wildfire engine and a crew of three to what's known as the Walden fire Wednesday. The fire is actually north of Walden close to the Wyoming border, according to Aspen Fire Chief Rick Balentine.

He said Capt. Ken Josselyn, the crew boss, made the trip with crew member Colin Marshall and Charlie Curtis. The federal government sought assistance. The Aspen crew could be gone for as long as two weeks.

scondon@aspentimes.com