Air quality alert issued due to smoke from Western wildfires

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The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection issued an air quality warning Tuesday citing continued effects from the western U.S. wildfires.

Those with heart or lung disease, the elderly, children and teens were advised not to spend long periods of time outdoors. Gary Lessor,  a meteorologist at the Western Connecticut State University Weather Center, also said people in the risk groups should wear a mask outside to limit the particulate matter they breathe in. People who are not in the risk groups should limit strenuous activities outside, he noted. 

On Tuesday, in Hartford the particulate matter level was 102, New Haven was 117 and Waterbury was 114, Lessor said. For particulate matter levels, zero to 50 is considered good, 50 to 100 is moderate, 100 to 200 is unhealthy, 200 to 300 is very unhealthy and above 300 is hazardous, Lessor said. There are particulate matter readings in some areas of California over 400, Lessor said. The smoke has spread across the country and into Canada and residents on the East Coast will be dealing with it for a while, Lessor noted. 

“This is becoming a concern for the entire country,” Lessor said Tuesday. 

Wallingford Fire Chief Joseph Czentnar said his department has seen a slightly increased call volume the last few days. Some of the calls have been for local mulch fires or medical calls, he said. Czentnar said they have experienced smoke from Western wildfires in the past. 

“I feel for the people out West,” Czentnar said Tuesday. “...It’s one of the worst wildfire years ever.”

He said the department looks at the heat index to determine any changes to their protocols and air quality is measured in particulate matter. In high heat, haze and humidity the department will curtail outdoor training, make sure all the crews are well hydrated and rotate crews more often during active scenes. Czentnar said the department is very good at adapting to changing conditions. 

Meriden Deputy Fire Chief Ryan Dunn said his department hasn’t seen a rise in call volume the last couple days. Dunn encouraged people to call in if they are concerned with a smoke condition, noting he wouldn’t want a local fire to be dismissed because the smoke is thought to be from the Western incidents. Dunn said he has heard that some fire departments in Hartford and Tolland counties are having increased calls from residents about the smoke. 

“If you are concerned, call, we will come out,” Dunn said. “It’s what we’re here for. We will evaluate the situation and go from there.”

Dunn said the department watches the alerts issued by DEEP. Officials also keep an eye on the heat index and humidity levels, which can drain crews very quickly at scenes. 

Czentnar and Dunn said the smoke from the wildfires is different than smoke would be from a local structure fire. A fire from a manmade structure would be heavy with the plastics and other materials that are burning from the home, Dunn said. Czentnar said the heavier particulates from the wildfires would most likely have fallen out before it reached the state. 

A cold front was expected Tuesday, Lessor said, with a potential for scattered showers and a thunderstorm after 8 p.m., ending by the morning. Not every town in the state will see precipitation, he said. The rain will help abate some of the smoke in the areas that get rain, Lessor said. 

The dew point is down in the mid-50’s, and temperatures through the rest of the week are forecast to be in the 70s and 80s, Lessor said. The weekend should be partly sunny with temperatures in the upper 70s and low 80s. 

lsellew@record-journal.com203-317-2225Twitter: @LaurenSellewRJ

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