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Out of state wildfires affect Denver’s air quality
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By Joseph Rios
08/18/2021
Temperatures throughout the country continue to rise each summer and with that comes wildfires. And in California, thousands of lives continue to be impacted by the country’s largest one — the Dixie Fire.

For this past month, the Dixie Fire has spread out nearly 867 square miles in Butte, Lassen and Plumas Counties in California. For context, the area the fire has burned at is as large as all of Tokyo. At least 6,000 firefighters in California have been battling the blaze that has already destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses.

Gary Stephen Maynard, a 47-year-old college lecturer in Northern California, was arrested in connection with starting a fire on federal forest land near where the Dixie Fire is burning. Court documents read that officials believe there is probable cause that Maynard intentionally started wildland fires near the Dixie Fire. Maynard denied setting any fires, even though his vehicle’s tire tracks matched those near numerous fires. He was charged with a felony charge for willfully setting fire to land owned by or under the jurisdiction of the United States, an affidavit reads.

As of this past Sunday, Aug. 15, 31 percent of the fire was contained. But still, officials say around 15,000 structures are still under threat from being destroyed by the fire. It is unknown how the fire started, but Pacific Gas and Electric says the blaze might have been caused by a tree that fell on a power line.

While the fire continues to impact parts of California, smoke from it is causing unhealthy air quality across the western part of the country, including in Colorado. Some of the thickest smoke was projected to reach the Eastern Plains on Tuesday with almost all of it originating from the Dixie Fire. In the beginning of August, Denver’s air quality ranked as the second worst among major cities, according to IQAir, an air quality tracking website. Only Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia had worse air quality than Denver among major cities in the world. On Aug. 9, Denver’s air quality index was between 120 and 140 throughout the day, nearly four times the exposure level recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

You can protect yourself from poor air quality by avoiding outdoor exercising when pollution levels are high, using less energy in your home, not burning wood or trash and by not allowing anyone to smoke indoors, according to the American Lung Association.

A national problem

While the Dixie Fire is the largest wildfire in the country, it’s not the only one burning.

Around 21,000 federal firefighters are working on the ground to battle wildfires throughout the Western part of the country. The amount of firefighters working on the ground is more than double the number of firefighters that were containing wildfires at this time a year ago.

On Saturday, a small wildfire east of Salt Lake City temporarily shutdown Interstate 80 and forced 8,000 residences to be evacuated. The fire was caused by a vehicle with a malfunctioning catalytic converter. Southeastern Oregon saw two wildfires last week blaze that were started by lightning. In Montana, firefighters gained ground on two wildfires that were threatening the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation.

Scientists say climate change has made the western part of the country warmer and drier the past 30 years. And the weather will continue to be extreme and will cause wildfires to be more destructive.

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