It’s one thing when smoke from a managed burn on a mountain in the middle of the forest keeps drifting into town – is it really worth it, we all mutter.
But when it’s a raging wildfire threatening small towns 60 miles away and the smoke still manages to reach Flagstaff, we all need to be thankful it’s not us being evacuated.
The latter scenario is going on right now near Bradshaw Mountain outside Prescott Valley as the Goodwin Fire burns up the Prescott National Forest. Strong winds are taking the smoke to the northeast, and Flagstaff is bound to get some dispersed smoke in the next few days – perhaps more in the early morning after it settles overnight.
But as we report today, for most people a few hours exposed to light wood smoke does not pose a health threat. That doesn’t mean we have to like it. A Mountain Town with a peak enshrouded in haze is more than disappointing. And those morning runs can be tougher than usual on the lungs with all those particulates crowding out the oxygen. Health officials urge athletes to cut back their exertions when smoke is present and everyone is better off indoors as much as possible with the windows closed until the air clears.
And for the elderly, the young and those with ailments of the lungs and heart, smoky skies are no picnic. They should take extra precautions, such as remaining indoors and relatively inactive. If breathing troubles develop, they should consider leaving the smoke zone altogether until skies clear.
And in Flagstaff the skies always do – and usually sooner than later. Afternoon breezes at 7,000 feet are nearly guaranteed, and that means the smoke that has settled in overnight will be blown away.
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And of course, it could be worse if you lived elsewhere in Arizona. The National Weather Service has issued several blowing dust warnings this year for the I-10 corridor in Pinal County. And in Phoenix, in addition to the withering heat, there have been several health pollution advisories this year as primarily auto exhaust reacts with sunlight to produce dangerous ground-level ozone.
Are there other types of air pollution to worry about in the region? Those living in the shadow of coal-fired electric plants have a higher level of exposure to smokestack releases, and the EPA has issued rules to reduce emission levels from coal plants nationwide.
But the occasional plumes of wood smoke drifting into Flagstaff don’t represent a long enough exposure to constitute a long-term health risk, although fire managers do their best to steer the smoke clear of heavily settled areas.
What’s more problematic is when a managed fire like the one on Kendrick Mountain not only sends smoke into surrounding communities but at a cost of $8 million in an area that has already burned over. There are a lot of other parts of the forest that haven’t burned yet and could use $8 million in restoration spending, whether by burning or thinning.
But the smoke itself, while temporarily unpleasant, isn’t the threat it seems in our blue-sky town – and at least the forest after a managed burn is the better for it. As for smoke from a crown fire, we wish the communities near Bradshaw Mountain and the firefighters out there on the lines only the best. If there’s a complaint about the smoke, no one is uttering it out loud.