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Expect a smoggy week as ozone settles over northern Utah

Despite a weekend of wildfires in California and Idaho, Utah’s poor air is not from smoke

SHARE Expect a smoggy week as ozone settles over northern Utah
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Smoky skies are seen from the base of Grandeur Peak in Millcreek on July 26, 2021. The Wasatch Front is set for some bad air conditions in the coming days, but officials say it isn’t because of other western wildfires.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Residents along Utah’s Wasatch Front can expect some dirty air over the next few days.

But even as fires in California and Idaho rage, the latest being the Oak fire outside of Yosemite National Park that blew up to 18,000 acres over the weekend, Utah’s lousy air has little to do with smoke.

Instead, the haze settling in across Utah’s capitol city is ozone pollution.

“July and August are typically the worst times for ozone, so we’re right in that window of when we expect ozone issues to be the greatest,” said Bo Call, monitoring section manager for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality.

Air quality through Thursday for Salt Lake, Davis and Utah counties is expected to be unhealthy for sensitive groups. All other monitored counties are forecasted to have moderate air quality for the next three days.

“We get those days when the air is relatively stagnant, and we have warm temperatures and sunlight,” said Call.

Pollution from wildfires, or PM2.5 emissions, is making its way into Utah. But as of now, Call said fires in the West only pose a “marginal” threat to Utah’s air.

The three-day air quality forecast is based on current fire activity, and is subject to change depending on what happens over the next day or two, as California and Idaho cope with some of the worst wildfires in the country.

That includes the Moose fire, which was discovered in rural eastern Idaho on July 17 and has since grown to burn over 32,000 acres, according to federal data, the largest active blaze in the U.S. As of Tuesday, it was only 10% contained.

And at 26% containment, California’s Oak fire is now the second largest fire in the country, burning near Yosemite National Park and causing thousands of evacuations, according to Cal Fire.

“If those fires get some more strong winds that really push them, then of course we’ll look into that and (air quality) could change,” said Call.

But as of Tuesday, wind and weather patterns combined with the type of fuels burning in Idaho and California, are not having a noticeable effect on Utah’s air.