Air quality levels remain moderate despite fire raging above El Jebel | AspenTimes.com

Air quality levels remain moderate despite fire raging above El Jebel

A woman covers her mouth and nose as she crosses Midland Avenue one day last week.

As the Lake Christine Fire continues to burn above El Jebel and is expected to for weeks, public health officials are advising people to pay attention to air quality.

A health advisory issued over the weekend is still in effect, which warns that smoke may reach unhealthy levels in Basalt, El Jebel and Carbondale.

On Monday afternoon, a sensor placed at the El Jebel Community Center by the state's environmental health department showed air quality as "moderate."

According to http://www.purpleair.com, which measures in real time, the air quality was acceptable. But for some pollutants, there may be a moderate health concern for people who are sensitive to air pollution.

"We are asking them to stay indoors if they have symptoms," said Rebecca Larson, an epidemiologist for Eagle County. "Listen to your body and use your senses."

She noted that air quality will vary as the wind and fire change direction.

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"It depends on where you are," Larson said.

The Northern Rockies Incident Management Team, which has been in charge of the fire since Thursday, said smoke will be present in high elevations — Missouri Heights and above — for the foreseeable future.

"You are going to see smoke on this hillside for a number of weeks," said Keith Brink, operations section chief. "Some of those places we can't get into, so they will have to burn out on their own."

Air quality has been on the good to moderate side in Aspen, said C.J. Oliver, the city's environmental health director. The only day small particulate matter levels exceeded the national average was the early morning hours of Thursday, when the winds shifted and the fire blew up on Basalt Mountain.

As a Blue Lake resident, Oliver said he has felt the air quality change abruptly in his neighborhood as the fire shifts.

"I can tell you that at times, it was awful," he said.

Larson said when the air is full of smoke, a bandana or a surgical mask are not effective tools for protection. She said people need to go indoors when it gets bad for them.

Oliver said it's important to follow air quality information closely, which they can do on the city's web page.

"We can't change the conditions, so we want to get information out," he said. "We want to make sure people have the forecast and real-time information."

Kurt Dahl, Pitkin County's environmental health manager, who also lives in Blue Lake, said air quality is a moving target under constant changing conditions. But in totality, the population centers aren't that badly affected by the fire thus far, he added.

"In general, the air quality doesn't seem that bad," he said.

csackariason@aspentimes.com

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