Smoke waves expected to intensify, continue to threaten public health across Colorado and the West

Wildfire-produced smoke waves that harmed air quality in the Roaring Fork Valley this summer may be associated with health risks for months after the fires end, while additional research shows that long stretches of smoky days are likely to become more frequent and more intense across the West as the climate warms.

In mid-August, thick smoke pooled in the valley from the Grizzly Creek and Pine Gulch fires, and earlier this month, smoke moved in from large wildfires in Utah and California. Between the two smoke events, there were 14 days during which the 24-hour average air pollution level was elevated beyond “satisfactory” in Aspen and Snowmass Village — or above 50 on the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality index  — and there were seven days during which the local air quality was above 100 on the AQI, which is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups. On three of those days, the AQI scale broke 150, which, according to the EPA, means the general public may experience health effects.

Unhealthy air again settled into the Roaring Fork Valley on Thursday and Friday, with Aspen’s AQI peaking above 150 on Thursday afternoon, resulting “from a combination of the Middle Fork wildfire located approximately 10 miles north of Steamboat Springs, and out-of-state wildfires,” according to a state of Colorado air quality advisory. Read more.