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Here's how to protect yourself from the smoke

By: Jesse Byrnes jesse.byrnes@gazette.com
June 21, 2013 Updated: June 21, 2013 at 5:55 pm
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It has traveled 200 miles across mountains, forests and streams, and now it lingers over southern Colorado.

As if a real-life, ever-present Instagram filter, smoke - at times heavy and nauseating for some - has draped much of the Pikes Peak region since Wednesday evening.

"The smoke in the Pikes Peak region is from the West Fork Complex fire," said Patrick Cioffi, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo.

Cioffi said the smoke is likely to last through at least Sunday because of a southwest flow carrying winds with gusts up to 35-40 mph.

"It's a little worse in the late evening and overnight hours after the winds die down," he added, noting that it can get trapped in the lower atmosphere.

A wildfire smoke health advisory went into effect Friday morning for El Paso County and lasts until 4 p.m. Saturday. Smoke from the West Fork Complex, East Peak, Bull Gulch, Trickle Mountain and Papoose wildfires caused the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to issue the advisory.

El Paso County is expected to see air quality of moderate to unhealthy for those who are more susceptible for Friday and Saturday.

"People are the best monitors of air quality - you should pay attention to what you are feeling, seeing and smelling," El Paso County Public Health Director Jill Law said in a statement.

People are encouraged to limit their time outdoors, keep doors and windows shut when smoke is present, use air conditioning if possible, open windows and use fans when smoke is gone, and drink plenty of water to stay cool.

Young children, those who exercise outside, work outdoors or who have respiratory diseases such as asthma are encouraged to limit or reduce outdoor physical activity, according to El Paso County Public Health, and those with chest pain, shortness of breath or coughing should talk to a medical provider.

"Allergy season was bad enough," said Eric Caplan, vice president of Colorado Springs Allergy and Asthma Clinic, which has seen a "ton" of calls and a lot of people having problems with the smoke. His center is twice as busy than usual, seeing about 10 asthma patients daily.

Caplan agreed on minimized time spent outside and increased use of air conditioning, but "people have to live their lives so they have to make those decisions," he said.

In general, if in a car, roll up the windows, hit the recirculate button and turn on the AC, Caplan said. Air filters can help in homes and portable filters work well in offices, he continued.

Masks have been helpful filtering out bigger debris for those in the burn area, he added.

Those with asthma are encouraged to keep their inhaler handy and continue with any preventative medicines they may be on, Caplan said.

In addition to the smoke advisory, a red flag warning was in effect Friday and a fire weather watch was issued for Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.

A watch indicates that critical fire weather conditions are in the forecast, while a warning means they are occurring or will soon.

Strong winds, low relative humidity and warm temperatures combine to impact fire behavior, according to the weather service.

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