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Wildfires in the Pacific Northwest bring the smoke to Utah

Smoke envelops trees as the Sugar Fire, part of the Beckwourth Complex Fire, burns in Doyle, California. The Beckwourth Complex Fire has burned roughly 55,100 acre, the largest in California this year.
Smoke envelops trees as the Sugar Fire, part of the Beckwourth Complex Fire, burns in Doyle, Calif., Friday, July 9, 2021.
Noah Berger, Associated Press

Wildfires in Idaho, California, Oregon and Washington brought smoke into northern Utah over the weekend, resulting in hazy skies and unhealthy air quality for sensitive groups, according to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

And officials are warning the Beehive State could get even smokier.

“Think the smoke today is bad? It could get worse!” the National Weather Service’s Salt Lake City office tweeted Saturday alongside a model depicting a three day smoke forecast.

There are 33 fires currently burning in the aforementioned states, including four type one incidents in northern California, one in Oregon and one in Idaho, according to the National Forest Service. That’s an increase in 10 reported incidents from Saturday afternoon.

Type one refers to a “large, complex incident” requiring multi-agency and national resources, according to the National Parks Service.

One of those incidents is California’s largest fire of the year. Sparked on July 2, the Beckwourth Complex Fire has burned roughly 83,926 acres, the Sacramento Bee reported, prompting evacuation orders in eastern Plumas County roughly 45 miles north of Lake Tahoe. On Sunday the fire, which is currently only 8% contained, reached the town of Doyle and burned several buildings, according to the Bee.

Much of the smoke in northern Utah can be attributed to the Beckwourth Complex Fire, the NWS said on Sunday.

Another culprit is Oregon’s Bootleg Fire, a type one incident that has nearly tripled in size since Friday, according to data from InciWeb. The fire has burned about 143,607 acres southwest of the Winema National Forest in southern Oregon.

Although the fires don’t appear to be slowing down, the NWS says by Tuesday central and southern Utah could see improved air quality thanks to a change in weather patterns and an increased likelihood of afternoon thunderstorms.

However, the NWS warned that northern Utah could remain smokey depending on fire conditions upstream. The air quality forecast in seven Utah counties — Carbon, Davis, Salt Lake, Tooele, Utah, Weber and Box Elder — remains unhealthy for sensitive groups through Tuesday.

The smoky skies come as Utah and the West are in the midst of a historic drought. June was Utah’s hottest on record, according to the NWS, and an excessive heat warning remains in effect for most of the lower elevation parts of the state.

On Saturday, temperatures in St. George hovered around 117 degrees, tying the all time record high for the Beehive State “pending a more thorough investigation of the data,” the NWS said.

In addition to Utah, eight states — Arizona, California, Idaho, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire and Rhode Island — experienced their hottest June on record, while six states — Connecticut, Maine, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming — saw their second hottest June, according to the NWS.

In total, June 2021 was the hottest June on record for the United States.