Poor air quality in Utah Valley from northwest fires

Air quality as seen from Ensign Peak, August 2021. Photo by Ashley Nash.

Hazy air and smoky skies have been frequenting Utah County over the past few weeks, with a haze so dense on some days the mountains aren’t visible. The Air Quality Index (AQI) runs on a scale of 1-50. An AQI level below 50 is clean and poses little to no risk to the public. When the AQI exceeds 50, the air can potentially be hazardous to certain people, according to AirNow.gov.

On Friday, Aug. 6, Orem’s AQI reached a level of 165, leaving cities on the Wasatch Front with some of the worst air quality out of any major city in the world. On the same day Salt Lake City’s AQI reached 214, making it the city with the worst air quality in the world.

Fires along California and the Pacific Northwest last week were the cause of the smoke and poor air quality in Utah. One of the major fires in these areas is the Dixie Fire, near Greenville, California. This fire was the cause of much of the smoke brought into Utah by a cold front, according to the National Weather service. The fire started Jul. 13, due to the drought and strong winds in the area, as reported by the Lassen National Forest U.S. Forest Service.

“The fires have definitely sparked up conversation about how terribly we treat the environment,” said Diana Rodriguez, a senior at UVU studying communications. “Last week the air quality was so bad, and people were still lighting fireworks. I just don’t feel like Utah was doing enough or taking the proper precautions to limit pollution,” said Rodriguez. 

The smoke made its way into the Utah Valley last week, air quality plummeting on Friday with low visibility. The skies were mostly clear and the smoke had lifted by Wednesday, Aug. 11, although some residual smoke remained throughout the proceeding weeks. 

Utah’s AQI levels reached over 150 last week, meaning sensitive groups could experience serious health effects. The Utah County Health Department advised people with respiratory illness, heart disease, infants, young children and elderly people to stay inside during periods of poor air quality. They also recommended that all members of the community limit time outdoors, and avoid bringing outside air into homes and vehicles. 

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