By Owen Woods | firstname.lastname@example.org
More smoke, more heat, more drought.
With almost two weeks of smoke-free solace, the twilight of summer brings us another pollution-filled sky. California’s Dixie and Caldor Fires are the main sources. As the west winds blow from California to Colorado, the smoke moves with it. Colorado itself remains relatively fire-free. The Sylvan Fire and Black Mountain Fire are nearly contained. Other fires are burning throughout the state, but pose a small risk of exploding.
“The worst of it is gonna be between now and early Saturday,” said National Weather Service-Pueblo Chief Meteorologist Stephen Hodanish of the smoke arriving in full force this week.
Alamosa has the potential to set high temperature marks, or get close to record temperatures, through Saturday, according to the NWS-Pueblo forecast. The NWS is now integrating weather data from the Alamosa Airport Radar to help with more accurate short-term forecasting for the San Luis Valley.
With the presence of heavy smoke in the Valley, it will be commonplace to have to learn what’s safe to be in and what isn’t. The Valley has an air quality index (AQI) meter that can be accessed through weather apps or the AirVisual app; these send alerts every few hours about changes that occur throughout the day.
Visibility is the most noticeable factor as smoke increases in the air, but with this smoke also comes potentially dangerous air pollutants. These pollutants are known as particulate matter, made up of chemicals and vapors that vary in size from 10 micrometers to 2.5 micrometers. Pollutants affect human health. Short-term effects are eye, nose, and throat irritation, as well as shortness of breath. With more long-term exposure, an increase in pulmonary and cardiovascular issues due to inflammation will arise.
Wildfire smoke in the San Luis Valley isn’t an anomaly, but it’s predicted to get worse as more fires occur, burning larger areas for longer periods of time. Climate change is creating drier seasons, which is creating more fuel for these fires. Also, we are seeing an increase in lightning strikes as well as more consistently high winds because of climate change. The future, for now, is full of uncertainties.
“It’s gonna get nasty,” Hodanish said.
Why It Matters
So far in 2021, more than 5 million acres have burned from wildfires, according to the NIFC (National Interagency Fire Center). Most of those fires have occurred on National Forest Service lands.
Frontline firefighters are not only facing intense fires for weeks at a time, they’re facing a labor shortage, too. This will affect containment rates of future wildfires. With a lack of federal funding for state wildfire agencies, keeping a trained workforce on the payroll is becoming difficult. With the high risk and high stress involved in wildland and overland firefighting, the demands are not being met.
In the coming years, as the summers last longer, and the winter snow isn’t able to absorb into the topsoil, fires will burn larger and larger areas at a rate that will be too fast for researchers and firefighters to keep up with. The line between a fire season and a fire year will eventually be too gray to distinguish.