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Wildfire smoke will continue settling around Colorado for few days, NWS says

Smoke in Rocky Mountain National Park July 11 2021_SButzer.jpg
Posted at 11:33 AM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-13 20:02:45-04

Smoke from wildfires near and far will settle around Colorado this week, spurring Air Quality Advisories in more than a dozen counties and an Ozone Action Day Alert for the Front Range.

The National Weather Service out of Boulder said the Front Range will stay under smoke plumes originating from fires in Oregon, Idaho and Northern California (The Beckwourth Complex fire in California grew to 89,000 acres this weekend after two wildfires combined earlier this month).

Several wildfires are currently burning in Colorado as well, but firefighters made good progress in the past few weeks increasing containment, with the exception of the new Morgan Creek Fire about 15 miles north of Steamboat Springs. Most of the older blazes aren't expected to grow, fire officials said last week.

Visibility in Denver is poor due to the smoke and ozone concentrations are hovering between moderate and unhealthy for sensitive groups across much of the northern Front Range, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) Air Pollution Control Division.

This includes Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins and Greeley. The CDPHE said it's advising active people, and those with lung diseases like asthma, to avoid spending long periods of time outside.

An Air Quality Health Advisory for Wildfire Smoke was issued for about a dozen counties through 9 a.m. Wednesday: Routt, Jackson, Grand, Garfield, Eagle, Summit, Mesa, Pitkin, Lake, Delta, Montrose, and Gunnison.

On Tuesday morning, a Ozone Action Day Alert was issued for the Front Range Urban Corridor until 4 p.m. This includes Douglas County north to Larimer and Weld Counties.

Screen Shot 2021-07-12 at 10.44.53 AM.png
Screenshot of smoke map over the western U.S. as of 11 a.m. Monday.

The CDPHE said moderate to heavy smoke was observed in the advisory areas, especially northern Routt County around the Morgan Creek Fire. Showers and thunderstorms Tuesday is expected to help and by late Tuesday, heavy smoke will stay mostly in lower elevations around the fire. Periods of heavy smoke will remain possible for areas along Morgan and Reed Creeks, the Elk River Valley, and the communities of Glen Eden and Clark Tuesday night through early Wednesday morning.

Drivers on Interstate 70 will likely see smoke along the roadway in Summit County as well.

Colleen Reid, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Colorado-Boulder, said the fine particulate matter is mostly coming from wildfires across the West.

“When I look at the map of fires right now, it seems like the whole West is on fire,” she said. “And if you look at the smoke plumes, sometimes it looks like we’re getting smoke coming from fires in California, sometimes it looks like we’re getting smoke from the fires on the Arizona-New Mexico border but it could be fires from lots of places as well as the one in Routt County right now.”

“This summer, it doesn’t look like we might have a gap in terms of relief from the fires, there’s so many fires right now, it’s only July,” Reid added.

Isolated showers and thunderstorms will return to the mountains and foothills Monday afternoon and evening, with scattered precipitation possible Tuesday afternoon and evening. Tuesday's storms will bring the threat of gusty winds and flash flooding, which will continue into Wednesday as more intense storms cover the state.

Click here for a current map of the Air Quality Index around Colorado. Click here for NOAA's current smoke map.