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Haze over city traced to smoke from wildfires

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — That haze hanging over Albuquerque the last couple of days is smoke from wildfires as far away as Washington state, but city Environmental Health Department officials say it is not a health risk.

“It is definitely noticeable and we’re keeping an eye on it,” Isreal Tavarez, Albuquerque’s environmental health program manager, said Thursday.

Tavarez said city meteorologist Jeff Stonesifer has been monitoring the haze and has found that particles in the air are not at a high enough level to cause health concerns.

Smoke is made up of a mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic matter burn. The biggest health threat comes from fine particles that can get into people’s eyes and respiratory systems. People with heart and lung disease are especially vulnerable when air contains excessive levels of these particles.

Stonesifer said that although particulate levels do not warrant a health alert, people who are especially sensitive to lung or eye irritation might want to stay inside.

He said the city’s assessment is that the smoke is from wildfires in the Pacific Northwest. Large wildfires are burning now in California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

And there are fires closer to home. The 200-acre Navajo River Fire is burning east of Chama, and the 30-acre Little Devil Fire is burning in a remote area of the San Juan National Forest between Pagosa Springs and Bayfield in Colorado.

Wildfire smoke in western Colorado prompted the Colorado Department of Public Health to issue a health advisory Thursday and to ban burning in one county.

Mark Fettig, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Albuquerque office, said the haze in Albuquerque will be especially noticeable in the evening hours through the morning hours because updrafts and downdrafts are at a minimum during that time and because temperature inversions – cooler air at the surface with warmer air over it – trap smoke closer to the ground.

Fettig said as temperatures warm during the day, heating up those cool lower levels, the smoke dissipates.

Stonesifer said he expected winds to turn westerly Thursday night and push the smoke out of Albuquerque. He said visibility in the city should be improved by today.