Regional
1:37 pm
Wed June 1, 2011

Wildfires Fill Skies With Smoke

Silver City – The residents of southwestern and central New Mexico awoke this morning to a sky filled with smoke. Drifting smoke is coming from a combination of wildfires burning in southwestern New Mexico, western and eastern Arizona as well as international fires in Mexico. Smoke conditions are expected to decrease as daytime temperatures rise.

Wildfire smoke is a mixture of small particles, gases, and water vapor. The very small particles, commonly referred to as "PM 2.5" or "fine particulate matter," are the most harmful to health.

Smoke exposure can temporarily cause burning eyes, runny nose, scratchy throat, headaches, and illness. However, these symptoms usually disappear soon after one leaves the smoke.

Smoke can seriously affect individuals whose health is already compromised, especially those with respiratory or cardiovascular disease. Older adults and children are also high-risk groups.

For these individuals, it is best to limit exposure to smoke and to any sort of prolonged physical exertion when there are unhealthy levels of smoke outside. If individuals develop symptoms that do not respond to their usual medications, they should see their health care providers immediately.

When a specific wildfire is producing smoke that has the potential to impact human health nearby, the U.S. Forest Service, along with Federal and State partners as appropriate, will monitor smoke impacts to help inform the public if unhealthy conditions exist.

The New Mexico Environment Department and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality are responsible for regulating pollutants under the Clean Air Act, including pollutants found in wildfire smoke. These state agencies ensure air quality standards are met and maintained, issue permits, and enforce regulations.

Useful websites on smoke management:

Forest Service data from smoke monitors near wildfires. http://www.satguard.com/usfs/default.asp. Click Real Time Data link.

New Mexico Environment Department air quality monitors http://air.nmenv.state.nm.us/. Click on Monitoring Stations and select a monitor.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) http://www.nws.noaa.gov/aq/sectors/southrockies.php#tabs