Smoke from wildfires part of summer in the West
by Bridger-Teton National Forest
September 20, 2012
Wildland fires presents many hazards to the recreating public, including burns from heat pockets, being struck by falling rocks and trees from a recently burned area, and exposure to smoke.
If you can smell smoke in the air then it is in the air you are breathing and that is where some individuals may feel effects from the smoke. Wildfire smoke occasionally causes eye and respiratory irritation, nausea, and headache.
Symptoms from short-term smoke exposure can range from scratchy throat, cough, irritated sinuses, headaches, runny nose and stinging eyes. Persons with asthma, emphysema, congestive heart disease and other existing medical conditions can have more serious reactions. The elderly and children are high-risk groups.
Smoke tends to be thickest in the mornings accumulating in the low lying areas or being held down close to the grounds until the inversion lifts. A thermal inversion, which occurs when cooler air closer to the ground is held down by warmer air above it , preventing pollutants ó such as smoke ó from rising and being dispersed into the atmosphere.
Wildfire smoke goes higher and higher into the atmosphere as a wildfire gets hotter and hotter. The higher the smoke gets into the atmosphere, the easier it becomes for it to travel further and further away. That is why sometimes smoke from neighboring states causes a haze in areas of the Forest even when there arenít any wildfires burning nearby. The winds are stronger high up in the atmosphere and there is less of a chance of the smoke being washed away by rain up there.
Smoke can also affect weather by creating thunderstorms, cooling areas by blocking out the sun and contributing to the formation of clouds.
On the Bridger-Teton, there are several wildfires burning that are contributing to smoke in the area. In the Teton Wilderness, the Bear Cub, Butte Creek and North Buffalo are all still active wildfires putting up smoke. In Lincoln County, the Fontenelle fire is still burning and is expected to burn until the snow comes. The newest fire on the Forest- the Chall Creek fire- is burning in Sublette County Wyoming and residents will continue to see a haze and smell smoke, especially in the early hours of the day. "Smoke has also settled on the Forest from neighboring wildfires in the west such as those burning in Idaho," said Mary Cernicek, Public Affairs Officer for the Bridger-Teton National Forest. "There is quite a bit of haze out there, but it canít be attributed to any one fire. It is from all over the west right now and that is part of what this late summer will be like on the Forest," she said.
While smoke is a factor to consider during the summer in the west, it is not a reason to forego recreating on public lands. "By minimizing physical exertion during periods of heavy smoke, outdoor enthusiasts can still enjoy the many activities that National Forest have to offer," said Cernicek.