Treasure Valley Air Quality Not As Bad As It Looks

Sep 20, 2012

The air quality has not been good today in the Treasure Valley, but it’s not as bad as it looks. The sky has had a yellow brown tinge to it making it look worse than it is according to Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality. Dave Luft, a DEQ air-shed manager, says you can’t always judge the air quality by the sky.

“The best gauge is not looking overhead or looking up, it’s looking horizontal,” Luft says. “While there is smoke over our heads and it’s blocking out some sunlight and making things look worse, we’re not breathing that air.”

Emmet Idaho disappears in haze Thursday afternoon.
Credit Emelie Ritter-Saunders / StateImpact Idaho

Some of that smoke is at ground level, which has kept air quality between the moderate yellow level andorange which is unhealthy for sensitive groups. Some of that high altitude smoke comes from several fires burning in Idaho.  But Luft says a lot of it comes to Idaho from the Wenatchee Complex of fires in Washington. Luft says things could be different Friday because prediction models show some wind from the south.

“Right now to the south of us is the only place where there aren’t fires,” Luft explains. “So if the models hold true, we’re hoping things are a little better tomorrow.”

Luft says the thousands of people who hope for clearer skies for tonight's BSU / BYU football game will probably be disappointed. He doesn’t expect that wind until after midnight.

Things are worse in the mountains, with McCall straying into the unhealthy red category and Ketchum at orange. But Luft says the worst place in the state for weeks now has been Salmon. That smoke is coming from the nearby Mustang Fire complex.

Last week we spoke to Tam Ambrose who lives in North Fork, which is close to that fire. Ambrose says sometimes she can’t see the tops of the trees through the smoke.

“I think all of us when the smoke is the worst we notice the headaches," Ambrose says. “And a lot of people have complained of chest pressure, they just can’t breathe.”

Ambrose says because of the smoke and dust kicked up by firefighting efforts residents feel like they’re coated in a layer of dirt they can’t wash off. The Mustang Complex is expected to burn into October, possibly longer.

Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio