The West is sitting under a thick blanket of smoke.
States including Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, Montana — all have smoky skies this week thanks to dozens of wildfires burning across the West, including some major blazes in Oregon and California.
The “main culprits” for the smoke in Utah, according to the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, are the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, which has scorched over 153,535 acres since it was sparked on Friday, and the Beckwourth Complex fires in northern California along the Nevada border, which have burned more than 89,748 acres as of Monday morning. Other fires burning in Idaho may be contributing, too.
We've had a lot of questions about the source of our smoky skies. Here is GeoColor satellite imagery from #GOESWest of the smoke, with likely contributors annotated. The Bootleg fire in OR and Beckwourth complex in CA are main culprits, fires in ID may be contributing too #utwx pic.twitter.com/LV5ZxDveLe— NWS Salt Lake City (@NWSSaltLakeCity) July 11, 2021
The National Weather Service in Salt Lake City warned on Saturday the smoke could likely get worse as the plumes continued to wash over Utah and its neighboring states.
By Tuesday afternoon, some moisture and potential thunderstorms — along with a shift in weather patterns — could help clear out the smoke in Utah, the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City tweeted.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox on Twitter referred to the National Weather Service’s posts on Saturday, saying “almost all the smoke you see is coming from big fires in California and Oregon. Hoping things will clear out later this week.”
As of Monday morning, air quality in seven Utah counties — Carbon, Davis, Salt Lake, Tooele, Utah, Weber and Box Elder — remained classified as “unhealthy for sensitive groups” through Wednesday, according to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.
Can masks help protect from smoke?
Wildfire smoke and ash can irritate your eyes, nose, throat and lungs, and lead to coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing. If you’re at higher risk for adverse health effects — perhaps if you have a heart or lung disease — the best way to protect yourself is to stay indoors or limit your time outdoors when there is smoke in the air, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Regular masks aren’t effective against the smoke, the EPA warns. However, N95 or P100 respirators can help protect from smoke and ash. Federal officials recommend them for people who must be outside for long periods of time in smoky air, or those experiencing health effects from the smoky environment.
The smoke comes as firefighters across the West are battling blazes in extreme temperatures as another heat wave washes over the region — and as the West suffers one of its worst droughts in modern history. The latest heat wave has been straining power grids as regulators in California have asked consumers to conserve their power usage to avoid outages, The Associated Press reported.
Smoke can help suppress high temperatures, the National Weather Service tweeted, “similar to a thin layer of cirrus clouds.” Compared to preliminary observations and this weekend’s forecast, weather service officials said it appeared northern Utah temperatures were trending slightly cooler — about 2 degrees to 5 degrees cooler — than forecasted.
Still, another temperature record fell in Salt Lake City on Sunday, when thermometers tracked 104 degrees, according to the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City. That broke a previous daily record high of 103 degrees in 2012.
Southern Utah’s St. George hit a scorching 117 degrees on Saturday, which would tie the all-time record for the entire state of Utah. The National Weather Service in Salt Lake City deemed the record “unofficial” at this time, saying it required a more thorough investigation of data before declaring it the new all-time state record high.
On the national scale, heat waves pushed last month to the No. 1 spot on the U.S.’s list of hottest Junes on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Eight states — Arizona, California, Idaho, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Utah — saw their hottest June on record. Six other states — Connecticut, Maine, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming — recorded their second hottest June.