No breathing room

Haze leads to burn ban, bad-air advisories

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SHAWN GUST/Press Carlos Venzor, of Coeur d'Alene, rides on the Centennial Trail Thursday as hazy skies diffuse the landscape around him.

As smoke from southern wildfires continues to clog the Panhandle skies, most of the five northern counties have been issued air quality advisories and Stage One burn bans through this afternoon.

"Some of it's a little surprising," said Mark Boyle with the Department of Environmental Quality, about the wildfires' pollution. "The lower level winds migrate it up here."

Kootenai County, still hosting patches of gray overhead on Thursday afternoon, has a Moderate air quality forecast and a ban against any outdoor burning today, according to the DEQ.

Areas of Benewah and Shoshone counties have the same burn ban, and an air quality status of Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. Bonner County has the burn ban and a Moderate air quality advisory.

Poor atmospheric mixing is expected throughout the day, Boyle confirmed.

"Any ground-level smoke generated from wildfires is likely to persist at the low levels, at or just above our breathing level," he said.

Kootenai County's air quality forecast advises that individuals unusually sensitive to smoke should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.

The Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups status in other areas recommends that the elderly, children and anyone with heart or lung disease should reduce long or active outdoor exercise.

"It's pretty common sense right now," Boyle said. "If you are feeling impacts, get ahold of your healthcare provider. Don't delay."

Prestige Senior Living in Coeur d'Alene has taken the precautionary route, said RN Debbie Brouillette.

Staff ensures residents on oxygen or with other health issues aren't going out or sitting outside for long periods of time, Brouillette said.

"For an extended length of time, you get more concerned," she said of the smoky haze. "When it's just a day here or there with the field burning, that's one thing, but now I'm getting more concerned."

The burn ban could have benefits beyond air quality. Glenn Lauper with the Coeur d'Alene Fire Department said there haven't been any notable fires in the region - yet.

But "historically, October is the month we go into pretty extreme (fire hazard) if we don't get any moisture," Lauper said, adding that the district is meeting with organizations about emergency preparedness.

The air quality advisories and the burn ban are in effect through 4:30 p.m.

DEQ expects pollutants to build through the weekend, as low level winds herd the smoke back toward North Idaho and Eastern Washington. Boyle said the wildfire smoke has been lingering in North Idaho since about Sept. 14.

"If you're susceptible to the pollutants, they're likely to come and go over the next few days," Boyle said.

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