Air quality remains poor as West Coast smoke continues to linger over much of Utah

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Salt Lake City air quality is no longer worst in the world, but still pretty nasty with little relief in sight

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The California and Oregon fires are carried into Utah by the jet stream as smoke blows into the Salt Lake Valley obscuring the skyline on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021.

The tsunami of West Coast wildfire smoke that inundated Utah on Friday thinned out a little by Saturday morning, but air quality along the Wasatch Front remained bad enough to warrant spending the weekend indoors.

Salt Lake City’s air quality for a time was the worst in the world among major cities when levels of fine particulate, or PM2.5, spiked above 100 micrograms per cubic meter, more than three times the federal health standard, blotting out the sun and views of the mountains. On Saturday, Utah’s capital dropped to the bronze medal position for filthy air, behind Lima, Peru and ahead of Kabul, Afghanistan.

“A cold front Friday morning brought in an abundance of wildfire smoke that resulted in some of the coolest temperatures in well over a month,” the National Weather Service tweeted Saturday. “While the cold front provided slightly cooler temperatures, smoke it brought in played a bigger role.”

The 62 degrees registered on Saturday morning for Salt Lake City was the lowest temperature reading since June 13, according to the weather service.

Unlike Utah’s winter inversions, this pollution cannot be avoided by heading into the mountains. Laden with substances harmful to human health, the smoke is hardly confined to low elevation areas, but extends far off the valley floors.

On the bright side, Salt Lake City’s ozone levels, which are usually elevated in the summer, have remained below unhealthy levels since the arrival of the smoke. That was not the case last week, when ozone and PM2.5 readings breached federal standards at the same time.

Saturday morning broke with some marginal improvements, but another wave of smoke was forecast to hit the Wasatch Front Sunday. The smoke is coming from the Dixie and other large fires raging in Northern California. Much of the West is blanketed in smoke blowing from massive fires across California, Oregon, Washington and Montana.

As of Saturday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, there were 107 large fires burning in 14 states, involving nearly 2.2 million acres.

Utah has largely evaded this summer’s epidemic of burning; currently, the Beehive State is reporting just one large fire. The Morgan Canyon fire was sparked on June 18 by a plane crash in the Stansbury Mountains. According to Utah Fire Info, it is 90% contained after burning on about 500 acres.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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