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Air quality fluctuates in Anchorage as Southcentral wildfires burn

By Lauren Maxwell 3:26 PM May 22, 2014

Air quality has improved in Anchorage since Thursday morning, but health officials say residents can’t bank on it staying that way.

A haze hung over Anchorage in the morning that made it difficult to make out the Chugach Mountains. Smoke from the Tyonek and Funny River fires can still be smelled in Anchorage, and drove municipal air quality levels to a “very unhealthy” designation Thursday morning. The health department recommended everyone remain indoors if feasible and avoid strenuous exercise.

But by Thursday afternoon, that recommendation had changed and air quality was considered “moderate” and improving.

“It just kind of tells you how unpredictable this whole thing is,” said Steve Morris with the city health department. “It could be very different from one hour to the next or even one part of town to the next.”

The National Weather Service predicts northerly winds will clear the Anchorage Bowl of even more smoke over the next few hours. But by late Friday afternoon that is expected to change once again.

“By tomorrow afternoon or evening we are going to start to see a wind shift and this will bring a steady south wind,” said the National Weather Service’s Christian Cassell. “This is going to push the smoke up towards our area.”

Cassell said dry, smoky weather is predicted for the Memorial Day weekend, with no rain or changes in sight.

Dust masks

The DHHS says that dust masks and surgical masks do not protect your lungs from small particles in smoke. Health officials recommend using N95 masks, which can be bought at hardware stores. N95 masks have two straps and have a “NIOSH” stamp, indicating that they’re certified respirators. To offer proper protection, however, the mask needs to fit to your face properly.

To check the current Anchorage air quality status, call (907) 343-4899.

–Hope Miller contributed reporting


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