Smoky skies cause for air quality concerns in Cache Valley

CACHE COUNTY, Utah -- The Peterson Hollow Fire continues to burn near Beaver Mountain Ski Resort, and the effects from the Clifton Fire in southern Idaho are still lingering.

Both fires were sending smoke into northern Utah at one point, putting those sensitive to air pollution on the alert.

Students are ready to take in classes at Utah State University, but not the air.

“I have really bad allergies, and I have asthma too, so it's been like a little harder, I had to use my inhaler twice yesterday," said Cassandra Chambers, a freshman at USU.

Bryce Bird, Air Quality Director for the Department of Environmental Quality, spoke about situation.

“We have seen earlier this week some really high concentrations that have hit Cache Valley and northern Utah,” he said. “The fine particulate matter that can get past your body's defenses and interact in the deepest portions of the lung."

The fires create concerns about pm 2.5, a particle that can get deep into the lungs. The concerns about smoke from fires are similar to worries about vehicle emissions during winter.

"Actually the chemistry of forest fires is different from the particulate air pollution that automobiles release, although there is a lot of commonality to it," said Roger Coloumbe, a toxicology professor at Utah State University. "...Lung cancer, but also congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, there is even a link to Alzheimer's disease and autism."

Some students aren't too concerned, but their professors are.

“The public health aspect of breathing in particles, whether they are from forest fires or from internal combustion engines, is very similar," Coloumbe said.

Experts urge Utahns to be careful with campfires and other activities that can spark wildland fires, and air quality experts say driving less is another way to improve air quality.