BOISE -- You might be wondering: if no wildfires are burning in, or close to Boise, why does it look like this?
It's hard to miss the haze blanketing the Treasure Valley. An orange air quality alert was issued for the area Thursday - as smoke from regional wildfires fill our area.
We're not seeing and smelling that thick smoke that we would get from fires burning right next to us, like we were at this time last year. But smoke from several wildfires in surrounding states like Oregon, Washington and California is getting trapped here and in other pockets of Idaho.
Our air quality is right on the threshold of yellow (moderate) and orange on the Air Quality Index (AQI) and considered unhealthy for sensitive groups.
"We've been lucky it hasn't been too bad, but enough to cause increased air quality concerns," Department of Environmental Quality Boise Regional Office Air Quality Monitor, Mike Toole, said. "It can build up over time."
Most of you have experienced this scenario: it's a hot summer day, you want to spend some time outdoors ad enjoy Idaho's beauty and all it has to offer. But when you step outside, you see hazy, smoky skies.
"Yeah this is miserable," Boise resident Kent Walker said. "You can kind of smell it and even taste it a little bit... It irritates your throat and you can certainly tell after you've been out in it for a while."
"It's all based on location of the fire, how much smoke it's putting out," Toole said. "What happens is we're just kind of in the middle of that. And being in this kind of river valley, surrounded by mountain ranges, if the winds are right and weather is right, it funnels right through us."
Along with wildfire smoke moving through, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) says higher levels of air pollutants and ground-level ozone formation during the heat add to this poor air quality.
"What that means, generally, is with children, the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions - what we call the sensitive group - is just kind of a warning to them: 'Hey, we're seeing a little more of this stuff in the air, take precautions,' " Toole added.
"Every morning, I'm waking up sneezing. My girlfriend has slight asthma, she wakes up with asthma, trying to use her inhaler, she has to use her inhaler," Walker said. "It's certainly affecting people. You can tell."
If you have any cardiac or respiratory issues, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema or COPD, you've likely been experiencing more serious effects.
St. Luke's and Saint Alphonsus tell KTVB they haven't seen an influx of patients with underlying issues into their emergency departments or urgent care. But specialists at The Allergy Group in Boise have.
"It has been a tremendous increase, especially for our asthma patients. They have been calling us over the phone," The Allergy Group's Dr. Neetu Talreja said. "They come with shortness of breath, coughing or exacerbation of symptoms requiring more use of their rescue inhaler."
Doctors are advising sensitive groups to really reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor exercise and exertion; kiddos and older adults should do the same.
"Some lifestyle changes to help them not to have so much increase in air consumption," Dr. Talreja added.
In addition to the orange alert, the DEQ issued a Stage 1 forecast and caution for Ada, Canyon and Elmore counties prohibiting all open burning.
"That's kind of an effort to not put any more of this pollution in the air during this time to make it any worse than it already is," Toole said. "Over the last several years we've seen a lot more smoke impacts than we did before that."
According to the DEQ, there is also a number of local city and county ordinances in effect that prohibit open burning. Toole says can expect the burn bans to last through the weekend and air quality levels to improve or stay around the moderate to "unhealthy for sensitive groups."
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