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Smoke having no impact on Salt Lake air quality, experts say

Published August 14, 2013 1:39 pm

Fires • Photographers say the plumes are creating longer "golden hours" for their work.
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There are two big fires burning on either side of the Salt Lake Valley, but at least they're no big problem for the air quality.

The smoke is going directly up and dissipating in the atmosphere, not billowing sideways and reaching the valley floors, said Donna Spangler, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. The division predicts moderate air quality for Salt Lake, Davis, Tooele, Weber and Box Elder counties today and Thursday, but that's due to the intense heat and vehicle emissions.

"In the Salt Lake Valley, we're not seeing anything [related to the smoke]," Spangler said. "The smoke is pretty much isolated to the area where they have already evacuated the residents."

The lightning-sparked Rockport 5 Fire has forced the evacuation of about 250 homes in Summit County since Tuesday afternoon. Since then, the flames have destroyed 13 homes and scorched between 1,200 and 1,500 acres. Over in Skull Valley, in Tooele County, the Patch Springs Fire has grown to 10,670 acres just east of the Goshute Indian Reservation. Structures are not threatened by the blaze, which is about 15 percent contained.

However, the direction of the smoke could shift if the wind patterns do.

"The concern is the particulate matter," Spangler said. Children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems are all the more sensitive to smoke should limit their time outside if they start feeling some irritation, she added.

The smoke is also having no impact on operations at Salt Lake City International Airport, said spokesperson Barbara Gann.

But for outdoor photographers, the smoky air is something of a godsend. The "golden hour," a normally narrow window when the rising or setting sun casts the world in a soft, warm glow, is extended by about an hour thanks to the way the rays shine through the smoke.

"If it's not too heavy and not too gray, the smoke acts as a giant soft box, a giant diffuser, that spreads out that light and gives you a nice even illumination," said Adam Barker, a photographer who was shooting a Canyons Resort real estate development in Park City on Tuesday evening as plumes from the Rockport Fire billowed behind him. The smoke gave Barker more time to work with good light.

But Barker added that the benefit is limited to shooting away from the smoky soft box.

"If it looks like Armageddon outside, it doesn't help," he said.

Howie Garber, a longtime photographer whose work was just published in "Utah's Wasatch Range: Four Season Refuge" (along with Salt Lake Tribune writer Tom Wharton), is in Jackson, Wyo., where smoke is blowing in and forcing him to shoot everything up close.

The smoke is great for the golden hour, but for most the day it's an undesirable backdrop in the sky, he said.


Twitter: @mikeypanda






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