Poudre Canyon residents south of Bonner Peak are leaving their homes as the Hewlett Fire continues burning for a fourth day. But the effects of the fire are being felt throughout Northern Colorado, especially in the air.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has extended its Wildfire Smoke Health Advisory from the fire east to an area including LaPorte, Fort Collins and Greeley through noon Friday. That means fine particulate pollution levels could become unhealthy for those with heart or lung disease, older adults and children, and they should avoid any heavy exertion.
As a result, Poudre School District has rescheduled or relocated all outside athletic and after-school activities, including field days, for Thursday. Elementary schools have been instructed to keep students in for recess, and the PSD sixth-grade district track meet has been postponed a week until Thursday, May 24.
Internal ventilation systems in some schools have been shut down to protect indoor air quality.
“While PSD is not closing schools at this time, staff remain in close contact with fire command officials and the health department and are monitoring the situation for student safety,” Alicia Durand, principal of Wellington Middle School, wrote in an email to parents this morning. “Should a decision be made that impacts school schedules, parents and community members will be notified via phone call and the PSD website.”
She also asked parents to tell their children with respiratory conditions, such as asthma and allergies, to opt-out of vigorous activities. Children are more likely to be affected by smoke because their airways are still developing and because they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults, according to the Larimer County health department.
One of the activities cut short by the deteriorating air quality is the mini Relay for Life at Wellington Middle School. According to organizer Linda Kinzli, the fundraising walk for cancer research that began early this morning will not continue after school as originally planned. However, anyone interested in donating to the cause may call the school at 970-488-6600.
The county health department guidelines indicate that wildfire smoke can be particularly harmful because it contains particles that tend to be very small and can be inhaled into the deepest recesses of the lung. Even in healthy people, this can cause temporary reductions in lung function and pulmonary inflammation.
When smoke levels are high, anyone may experience coughing, a scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, stinging eyes, and a runny nose. If you can see or smell smoke, you should limit outdoor physical activities and stay indoors if at all possible.
More information is available from the county health department at larimer.org/health/WildfireHealthAdvisoryEng.pdf.
Air quality updates are available at www.colorado.gov/airquality/advisory.aspx.
Updates on the Hewlett wildfire are available at inciweb.org/incident/2863/.