What's that smell? Smoke from Northwest wildfires moves into St. - KMOV.com

What's that smell? Smoke from Northwest wildfires moves into St. Louis area

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Image from NASA shows smoke across the US Image from NASA shows smoke across the US
Image shows smoke's path from AirNow.gov Image shows smoke's path from AirNow.gov

ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com / AP) -- Smoke from huge wildfires in the Northwest made its way to the St. Louis area Friday, leaving a noticeable haze and smell in the air.

AirNow.gov shows the smoke from wildfires in the Pacific Northwest made its way to St. Louis.

The smoke and particles from the fires are traveling along the jet stream and have crossed 3,000 miles to the East Coast, according to NASA.  

WHAT'S BURNING?

By Thursday, more than 76 large fires were burning in nine Western states — including 21 in Montana and 18 in Oregon, according to the interagency fire center.

So far this year, wildfires have burned more than 12,500 square miles (32,000 square kilometers) nationwide. In the past decade, only two years were worse at this point in the wildfire season: 2015 and 2012.

For all of 2015, a record 15,800 square miles (41,000 square kilometers) burned. In 2012, 14,600 square miles (38,000 square kilometers) were scorched.

HOW BAD IS THE SMOKE?

"It's unusually bad," said Henry, of the National Interagency Fire Center.

Smoke is lingering from northern California and central Nevada to Montana. The air over parts of northern California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington is rated very unhealthy on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's AirNow website. It was not clear whether sources other than fires were contributing.

The air over the towns of Cottonwood and Porthill, Idaho, were listed as hazardous, the worst of six categories.

Fires spew particulates into the air, which are linked to premature death and cancer and can make asthma and chronic lung disease worse, said Dr. Norman H. Edelman, a senior science adviser to the American Lung Association.

"It certainly is bad enough to cause symptoms in people with chronic lung disease but also normal people," he said.

A volcanic eruption is probably the only thing that pumps more particulates into the atmosphere at once than a fire, he said.

WHO'S FIGHTING THE FIRES?

More than 26,000 people are fighting the fires, backed by more than 200 helicopters, 1,800 trucks and 28 air tankers dropping water and fire-retardant slurry. Three of those tankers are military C-130 planes.

The military has also assigned surveillance aircraft and at least 200 active-duty soldiers to fight fires and the National Guard has been called out in at least four states — California Montana, Oregon and Washington.

"We're stretched thin," said Jennifer Jones, a spokeswoman for the interagency fire center.

Sometimes the center gets requests for more crews and equipment than it has, so "fire managers on the ground are adjusting their tactics and strategies to accommodate the resources they can get," Jones said.

"We don't pack up our tents and go home."

HOW BAD ARE THE LOSSES?

Nine firefighters have died and 35 have been injured this year, according to the National Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center. Two of the deaths came during training.

Fires have destroyed an estimated 500 single-family homes and 32 commercial buildings this year, the interagency fire center said.

Janet Ruiz of the Insurance Information Institute sees a hopeful trend in fewer houses lost to wildfires in recent years. Ruiz credits better-equipped firefighters and homeowners who take steps to minimize the danger such as clearing trees away from buildings and installing screens over dwelling openings to keep embers out.

"It's a better-informed public and fire services better able to fight fire," she said.

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