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Denver among cities with worst air quality because of fires

August 7, 2021 GMT

DENVER (AP) — As huge plumes of wildfire smoke from California moved east, Denver’s air quality ranked among the worst in the world Saturday afternoon.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued an air quality health advisory until Sunday, warning that people — especially those with respiratory illnesses like asthma or COPD — should avoid prolonged outdoor activities and keep windows closed. Meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Denver say that air quality should improve a bit on Sunday, though it will remain very hazy and smoky.

U.S. cities, including Denver and Salt Lake City in Utah, are being overrun with smoke from distant California and West Coast wildfires. Most of the smoke is coming from the Dixie Fire in California, 9NEWS reported. As of Friday, the blaze spanned an area of 676 square miles (1,751 square kilometers), greater than the size of New York City. No injuries or deaths have been reported, but the fire continued to threaten more than 10,000 homes Friday. It is 35% contained.

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Winds coming from the west have steered the Dixie Fire’s smoke straight into Colorado. According to the air quality tracking website IQAir, air quality levels hovered around the 160, which falls in the unhealthy category, in Denver.

The heavy smoke also found its way into Utah on Friday. Salt Lake City was also among cities with the worst air quality on Saturday.

As haze overtook Salt Lake City on Friday morning, dispatch centers were flooded with calls from people wondering if the smoke was the cause of a local fire, KUTV reported.

Centerville Police Chief Paul Child said he had never seen anything like it. Once the calls started pouring in, his officers started checking for local fires all over the city, he said.

“They were completely overwhelmed. They couldn’t keep up with the calls that were coming in,” Child said. “In fact they were thinking about calling in extra dispatchers.”