Topeka’s air quality remains poor as wildfires in the west cause hazy skies


The Topekans have been facing heat stress and an increase in COVID-19 cases fueled by the delta.

Poor air quality can now be added to the list.

Misty skies have shifted over the Topeka region due to forest fires burning in the northwestern part of the country.

According to the National Fire Interagency Center, 90 fires are burning in 12 states. Over 1.8 million acres were burned.

Topeka’s air quality at 2 p.m. Monday hit 134 on the Air Quality Index, making it unhealthy for sensitive groups to be outdoors. This would include people with heart or lung disease, children, the elderly and pregnant women.

According to AirNow, Topeka’s air quality began to decline early Sunday morning and peaked at 163 in the afternoon, pushing air quality into the “unhealthy” category.

Why is the sky foggy?

The fires that burn in the northwestern part of the United States result in a large volume of smoke and particles that enter the airflow and travel east, said Alan Stahl, head of public education by Topeka Fire.

The particles, Stahl said, are fine debris or burnt ash.

These elements are at the origin of the hazy sky of Topeka.

“Anything that burns in this forest is now being transported to us,” Stahl said. “If you think of it that way, it’s like being the target of a horrible campfire, but we’re halfway to the United States.”

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How does poor air quality affect us?

The good news, said Stahl, is that it’s all about wood and natural materials. But all the particles people breathe in their lungs can cause problems.

“Everyone reacts a little differently to this,” Stahl said. “Some people could really irritate their lungs just if they have tree allergies, if they have asthma problems of other types. All of those things come into play.”

People working outdoors should listen to their bodies and sensitive groups should stay indoors as much as possible.

“People working outdoors may experience shortness of breath, chest tightness, increased cough, fatigue or headaches,” said Craig Barnes, division chief of the community health planning and outreach department. . “Air pollution can also cause eye and nose irritation as well as a sore throat.”

People with asthma or COPD may find that they use their medications more often, Barnes said.

“Due to the strain on the heart, the development of heart attacks and / or irregular heartbeats also increases during times of poor air quality,” Barnes said.

Businesses that depend on their employees working primarily outdoors may need to find other work when the air quality is poor.

Clay Adams, KDOT’s director of field operations, said the agency is monitoring air conditions and if employees with health concerns are at risk of being affected, KDOT will find them another job that requires less effort.

“At this time we are not aware of any issues and the forecast at this time is that the air quality will improve during the week,” Adams said.

Recommendations on how to stay safe outdoors when the air quality is poor include wearing a mask. In this case, Stahl said, the particles are too small for a mask to be effective.

“There’s no good way to avoid it,” Stahl said.

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How long will the hazy sky and poor air quality last?

The hazy skies could last until Thursday and possibly into the weekend, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Brandon Drake.

Drake said the upper winds would push the smoke east, but the transition would be slow.

“It’s better now today because we don’t have that much moisture in the air for things to accumulate,” Drake said. “That’s why the visibilities have been a little better.”

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How is that different from the hazy sky caused by the annual Flint Hills burn?

The Kansans are familiar with bad weather conditions. In the spring, the Flint Hills are scorched, resulting in poor air quality and hazy skies.

Stahl said it was difficult to compare the conditions caused by the Flint Hills fire and the wildfires in the west.

“The Flint Hills will definitely be worse because depending on the wind direction and conditions closer to the fire, more particles will fall, more smoke,” Stahl said.

The smell of smoke lingers in the air and the Kansans are more likely to be affected by air quality due to the proximity of the Flint Hill burn.

“The materials we’re getting now, they’re bad,” Stahl said, “but they’re not as bad as they could be.”

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