For the first time in several days, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality on Wednesday forecast Treasure Valley Air quality as only unhealthy for sensitive groups — not good, but better than the red rating that had dominated recent statistics and declared conditions unhealthy for everyone.
The DEQ downgraded Thursday's initial red rating to the somewhat better orange and predicts an orange rating Friday as smoke from the Walker fire near Idaho City continues to create haze in Boise and beyond.
Air quality could see more of a boost this weekend, when cooler temperatures and possible showers are forecast, the National Weather Service predicts. Temperatures Tuesday through Thursday have averaged about 10 degrees above normal, and the Boise area is already about a week beyond the average date for its first freeze.
It will stay warmer than normal up until Saturday, with a predicted high of 81 Friday, meteorologist Valerie Mills said Thursday.
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Saturday will bring a chance of precipitation, starting in the afternoon, and a predicted high of 69 degrees. Sunday's forecast calls for temperatures in the low 60s and a slight chance of showers, Mills said.
“The weather pattern would be favorable for mixing some of the smoke up and transporting it away,” she said. “Of course, if we get any precipitation, that could help too.”
Temperatures are expected to return to the 70s for Monday and Tuesday, she said.
“If you're waiting for a freeze, you're going to have to wait longer than 7 days,” she said.
The DEQ noted that hour-by-hour, the Treasure Valley could still see air quality anywhere from “green” (good) to “red,” and that smoke from the fire could still worsen again at any time.
In addition to a likely lessening of the Treasure Valley's smoky haze, more good news has emerged from the 5,440-acre Walker fire, officials said Thursday.
Residents were able to return to their homes in Macks Creek, Pine Creek, and Wolf Creek Wednesday night after being evacuated Sunday due to the blaze, according to fire officials.
The human-caused fire has been 60 percent contained, and crews have pushed it away from residential areas, officials report.
The Idaho Department of Lands is managing the blaze, and about 570 people are fighting the fire, according to officials.
The late-season fire helped spark the Department of Lands’ Wednesday announcement that it will extend “closed fire season” until further notice, requiring anyone outside city limits anywhere in Idaho to obtain a fire safety burn permit before burning anything, including crop residue. An exception is granted for recreational campfires. Burn permits can be obtained online or in person at IDL offices statewide.