Smoke may be here for a while. Is it dangerous?

Residents advised to limit activity, close windows to avoid exposure

Article courtesy of Mary Shinn City & Health Reporter / The Durango Herald

Heavy smoke is expected to blanket the region during the late evenings and early mornings for as long as the 416 Fire roars through the San Juan National Forest north of Durango. With it come fine particles that can cause persistent coughing and difficulty breathing.

Data collected near Bondad has shown spikes in poor air quality during the early morning hours in recent days, a trend that is expected to continue through the weekend, said Scott Landes, meteorology and prescribed fire supervisor with the state’s Air Pollution Control Division.

When moderate to heavy smoke is present, residents should consider limiting physical exertion and time outside, according to San Juan SmokeBasin Public Health advisories. If visibility is less than 5 miles, smoke has reached levels that are unhealthy.

Air quality tends to improve in the afternoon, but if residents have been exposed to polluted air in the morning, they should still consider taking it slower later in the day, he said.

“The health effects of fine particles linger,” he said.

Those who commute by bicycle can continue to do so, but cyclists who are training outside should limit their activity, he said.

It is unknown exactly how exposure to fine particles from fires can affect health in the long-term, he said. In the short term, residents may experience difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing and phlegm, according to the health department.

Mercy Regional Medical Center staff have not seen any patients visit the emergency room because of the smoke, said spokesman David Bruzzese.

However, those with allergies and asthma are likely to experience increased symptoms because smoke irritates the respiratory system, said Dr. Donald Cooke of Allergy Asthma Specialists.

Dry eye, increased sinus pressure, nasal drainage are all possible reactions to the smoke, he said.

The particles from the smoke will make their way into the respiratory system where they can get stuck. Specialized cells can clear the particles away, but it takes time and sometimes it never happens, he said.

“Some of it will get cleared out, but not all of it,” he said.

Air-quality data collection in the area is limited to a monitor near Bondad, he said. However, the state sent San Juan Basin Public Health additional monitors that were expected to arrive Thursday.

Additional data is expected to be publicly available at

Tips to protect yourself:

Consider relocating temporarily if smoke is present indoors and is making you ill.If you are having difficulty breathing, see a health provider.People with heart or lung disease, older adults and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion.Close windows and doors and stay inside. However, do not close up your home tightly if it makes it dangerously warm inside.Run air conditioning if it filters air coming into the home. Use high-efficiency particulate air filtration units if you have them.Avoid smoking and/or secondhand smoke, vacuuming, candles and other sources of additional air pollution.Do not use paper dust masks or hold cloth over your face. These masks do not filter out the particles and gases in smoke.Close bedroom windows at night.To prepare for nighttime smoke, consider airing out your home during the early or middle of the afternoon if the smoke is more diluted. If your child is experiencing respiratory symptoms contact your pediatrician or go to the nearest emergency room.Respirator face masks can protect residents from fine particles in smoke and they are available at hardware stores and pharmacies. However, using respirator masks can make it harder to breathe, which may make existing medical conditions

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