Weather

Why is the air in the Treasure Valley so yucky right now?

View of the Cinder Butte Fire

This is a video of smoke from the Cinder Butte Fire in Oregon.
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This is a video of smoke from the Cinder Butte Fire in Oregon.

Wildfires are burning all over the Northwest — but it’s the Cinder Butte fire in eastern Oregon that’s mucking up the skies over Boise, a National Weather Service meteorologist says.

Prevailing winds out of the west and northwest are carrying smoke from the rapidly growing fire, which has consumed an estimated 56,000 acres in less than two days.

“There are other fires north of here but most of that is not going to bother us,” said Les Colin, lead forecaster at the Weather Service. “Right now, the one that really matters is the one to the west.”

Air quality in the Treasure Valley deteriorated so much overnight Wednesday and Thursday morning that the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality issued an “orange alert,” a warning that sensitive groups, including the elderly, children and those who have heart or lung conditions, should limit time outdoors. The warning is also in effect for Friday.

Wildfire smoke has increased both particulate matter and ozone levels in the air. Outdoor burning and the use of woodstoves are prohibited in all of the cities and unincorporated areas of Ada and Canyon counties.

“We’re going to have smoke impacts today [Thursday], tomorrow and through the weekend,” said Michael Toole, regional airshed coordinator for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality in Boise.

Colin said he doesn’t see anything in the forecast that would help clear the air in the near future.

“It doesn’t look like there’s any strong system to push it out,” he said. “There is nothing distinct that would move it out that I can see.”

Upper-level wildfire smoke from other fires in the Northwest, from as far away as British Columbia, could also be impacting the air quality here.

The Cinder Butte fire, which is burning in grass and sage brush, was reported at 1 p.m. Wednesday afternoon off of Highway 20 about 16 miles east of Hampton, between Burns and Bend, the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center says.

About 400 firefighters were working the fire Thursday; air tankers and helicopters are providing support, Central Oregon fire officials say.

Wildfires burning in Oregon, Washington and Montana are affecting other parts of Idaho. The DEQ’s real-time air monitoring map showed that the air quality in the Lewiston area Thursday afternoon was also in “orange alert” territory, or unhealthy for sensitive groups.

NW fires

near surface smoke

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller

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