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Record high trends in wildfires lead to bad air quality in Utah

Posted at 10:31 PM, Oct 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-08 00:31:54-04

SALT LAKE CO., Utah — Meteorologists with the National Weather Service said the particles you were breathing in on Wednesday were similar to what you would find in the middle of a Utah winter inversion.

The layer of smoke that rests across Northern Utah is in the mid to upper atmosphere.

Meteorologist Christine Kruse, who’s been with the National Weather Service for 16 years, said the smoke is from the fires in California.

“But when you have a local fire and it’s nighttime, that smoke can settle down into the valley and you see a lot more thick, surface smoke,” said Kruse.

That was how the air quality was during some of Utah’s major fires this year, closely mirroring what happened in 2018.

Kruse said the 2018 Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires burning in Utah County produced a thick amount of smoke in the air.

In 2018, there the National Weather Service reports 1,333 fires, burning more than 400,000 acres.

In 2019, only 1,025 fires burned more than 92,000 acres.

This year, there have been 1,349 fires so far in Utah, burning more than 300,000 acres.

“We are starting to violate that Clean Air Act,” said Jared Mendenhall, a spokesman for the department of Environmental Quality.

Especially with what’s blowing over from California.

In comparison, NWS reports 8,054 fires burning nearly two million acres in the Golden State.

In 2019, 8,194 fires burned nearly 260,000 acres.

For 2020, a record high of 8,320 fires burned more than 4 million acres in California.

As of October 7, 2020, the NWS reports show more than 45,000 fires have burned across the United States, scorching nearly 8 million acres.

No wonder, Utah’s air looks the way it does.

“The part that we’re worried about is those fine particulates,” said Mendenhall. “It’s the same kind of material that makes up those wintertime inversions and these have the potential to lodge deep into your lungs and causes all kinds of health problems.”

More health problems due to poor air quality though, are not in Utah’s forecast for long.

“There’s a big change in the weather coming on Sunday,” said Kruse.

The Department of Environmental Quality also looks at how our emissions are impacting air quality here and the trend they’ve seen over the last 10 years is improvement.