Hazy air is no cause for alarm

Data suggest that smoke from the Swan Lake fire not harmful to most in Cordova

A seagull sails through the hazy air over Orca Inlet. Smoke from the Swan Lake fire has spread across Alaska, as seen here on Saturday, June 29. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

While some Alaskans experience unhealthy levels of smoke pollution, the light haze hanging over Cordova should be harmless for most, federal officials say.

Smoke from the Swan Lake wildfire on the Kenai Peninsula has triggered statewide air quality alerts since the blaze began on June 5. Moderate levels of small-particle pollution were detected in Cordova over the weekend of June 29 by Weather Underground, an online forecasting service. The smoke, which has made Cordova’s mountains bluer and its sunsets redder, will be dangerous only for people with unusual respiratory sensitivities, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow service.

A light veil of smoke hangs around Mt. Eccles. Smoke from the Swan Lake fire has spread across Alaska, as seen here on Saturday, June 29. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Air taxi pilot Jared Kennedy said that while the haze is noticeable it’s not heavy enough to interfere with flying. The direction of wind currents will determine whether Cordova’s air quality improves or degrades as the fire continues to burn. Coastal communities such as Cordova will be safest from smoke pollution, as sea breezes help disperse the smoke, according to a U.S. Forest Service report.

Paper masks, surgical masks and wet cloths will not prevent the inhalation of smoke particles from wildfires, warns the EPA. Only respirator masks designed to filter out small particles are recommended. Suitable respirator masks are currently stocked by Cordova retailers, including True Value Hardware and Ace Hardware.

As of June 1, the Swan Lake fire, which was ignited by lightning, had consumed some 70,000 acres and was 15 percent contained, according to Sam Harrel, incident commander. Harrell told KTUU Channel 2 anchorwoman Maria Downey in Anchorage on June 1 that fire destruction of acres of black spruce trees in the Swan Lake fire would serve as protection from future forest fires for years to come.