Air quality graph

This graph from shows air pollution readings from PurpleAir monitors in Buena Vista for the first days of September. On Sept. 7, smoke from fires in California and Utah caused air pollution to spike to potentially hazardous levels. That pollution was knocked out of the air by an early September snowstorm the following day.

According to monitors in the Buena Vista area that record air quality, fine particles in the air reached 265 microns per cubic foot at around noon Monday, some of the highest readings in the state, according to

“Over 200 was pretty extreme in terms of the regional haze from the wildfires, no doubt,” said Wano Urbonas, Chaffee County’s director of environmental health.

Fires in California and Utah contributed to the smoke in Buena Vista, he said.

“They’re not experiencing the inclement weather we are today (Tuesday), so we very well could get that bad air pollution coming in again,” Urbonas said. “Between the cold weather and the precipitation it has filtered out some of the particulate, no doubt.

Monday, PurpleAir monitors recorded Air Quality Index readings in the 200’s for fine particulates, called PM-2.5, in Summit County, Lake County, Buena Vista and Salida – coded with the color purple, indicating “Very Unhealthy” conditions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s AQI scale.

Most of the PurpleAir monitors in the country reporting higher AQI’s at that point Monday were in the forested areas of northern and eastern California and the high desert outside Los Angeles.

A record 2.3 million acres are currently burning due to more than two dozen wildfires in California, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

These finer particulates, which are 2.5 microns or less, pose a greater danger to health because they “travel longer in the air, and they’re finer so they can be inhaled more easily and they can get deeper into our lungs,” Urbonas said.

Additionally, the finer particulate causes greater regional haze and elevated opacity levels, as they hang in the air longer and impair visibility.

The PurpleAir monitor at the Buena Vista Heritage Museum reports an average of 61 over the past week, which is in the yellow range, meaning moderate.

With the sudden snow that hit Buena Vista Tuesday, those numbers dropped to zero.

“People that are compromised to begin with, whether that be respiratory illness or asthma or emphysema, the people who experience those kinds of problems on a daily basis, the really bad air quality really exacerbates the situation, making it more and more difficult to breathe,” Urbonas said. “From a public and environmental health standpoint, if we see numbers over 50, you should reduce your exercise outtake, and when we get levels over 100, you should seriously consider staying inside.”

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