Hazy skies in area not from Colorado fires
High pressure system over Nevada pushing smoke from 40 wildfires into northern and western Colorado
UPDATE: The state’s public health department extended an air quality healthy advisory into Wednesday morning for much of northern and central Colorado, including Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties because of the wildfire smoke. The advisory, which was first issued Monday, remains in effect until 9 a.m. Wednesday, and those who have heart disease, respiratory illnesses, the very young and elderly are encouraged to stay inside when the smoke is thick. For more information, go to pitkinemergency.org.
Wildfires are raging across the Northwest, aided by winds of a high pressure system that is bringing the smoke from those fires to Colorado.
The result is hazy skies over Pitkin and Eagle counties and western Colorado that are likely to continue for the next few days.
A massive heatwave hit the Northwest in late June, breaking records and contributing to hundreds of deaths in the U.S. and Canada. Wildfires began to spark across the region in the dry and windy days that followed.
As of Sunday afternoon, the Bootleg Fire in Oregon had grown to more than 140,000 acres, an area of about 220 square miles. The Dry Gulch Fire in Washington is 46,352 acres, the Snake River Complex Fire in Idaho is more than 50,000 acres, the Robertson Draw Fire on the Wyoming/Montana border is at about 30,000 acres and the MY Complex Fire in Montana is more than 24,000 acres.
Farther to the Northwest, in Canada, more than 40 fires started burning across British Columbia in late June, and by July 8, “that number climbed to more than 200 active fires across the Canadian province, of which 15 were considered “wildfires of note” (especially large fires, or fires that threaten public safety),” NASA reported July 8.
Many of those fires, along with the roughly 35 other smaller fires in Oregon, Idaho and Montana, all are burning in areas upwind of Colorado.
Could continue into mid-week
Dennis Phillips with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction said the winds are likely to continue bringing smoke into the area for the next few days.
“We have high pressure that’s sitting over southern Nevada, so we have this big clockwise rotation over the Pacific Northwest, right over Wyoming and into Colorado,” Phillips said. “It might be stuck there into mid-week.”
Phillips said by next weekend, the area could be seeing clearer skies.
“It looks like there’s southwest winds setting up late this week into next weekend, which would send that smoke into Canada, so there might be a reprieve,” he said.
A public information officer working the Sylvan Fire in Eagle County on Sunday confirmed smoke from that fire is not affecting air quality at this time, as that fire is producing very little smoke.
The fires in the Northwest are contributing to “99 percent” of the haze in the area, Phillips said.
That other 1% of haze in the area, Phillips said, could be the Morgan Creek Fire burning in Routt County, which was first reported Saturday and quickly grew to more than 1,900 acres, or 3 square miles.
Hutson Vann, the lead PIO on the Morgan Creek Fire, said a temperature inversion Sunday prevented the fire from sharing much smoke with neighboring areas during the day, but smoke could pick up in the evening.
“Today, you look out and you’re not going to see a big plume or column, but we should start to see a little more smoke,” he said.
Vann said the southeastern section of the Morgan Creek Fire reached the burn scar from the Middle Fork Fire of last summer and stopped its progression in that area.
“It checked — that means it didn’t progress — because those fuels were previously consumed,” Vann said. “So that’s a positive for this fire.”
Closures issued Sunday
Vann said by the time the National Forest was able to issue closures in Routt and Jackson Counties, many people were still in those areas recreating. Those people are now being urged to leave. The closures went into effect Sunday.
Roughly, the closed area goes from the Routt National Forest boundary on the west near Clark in Routt County; north to Big Agnes Mountain; east over the Continental Divide to the National Forest boundary in Jackson County near Red Canyon; and south to Mount Ethel.
Closures include a large section in the middle of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness, a section of the Continental Divide Trail, all Forest Service recreation sites along the Seedhouse corridor, including campgrounds, trailheads and the Seedhouse Guard Station. Forest Road 400 is closed where County Road 64 enters National Forest. Forest Roads 440, 442 and their associated spur roads also are closed.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the Dry Gulch Fire is in Washington.