Wildfire smoke over Glenwood Springs from the Spring Creek Fire near Parachute, Colorado.

County unveils wildfire smoke preparedness plan

Outlines health impacts from smoke and details county’s history with wildfire

July 20, 2023

Garfield County has released its wildfire smoke preparedness plan outlining the effects wildfire smoke could have on residents and providing information about how exposure can negatively affect health. The Garfield County Wildfire Smoke Preparedness Plan details potential impacts to specific groups of people, history of wildfires in the county, and provides key messaging strategies to effectively disseminate emergency information to the community.

Beginning in 2021, Garfield County Public Health worked with regional partners, environmental health representatives from Eagle County and the City of Aspen, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on a year-long series of educational workshops featuring wildfire experts. Garfield County Public Health then embarked on a rigorous effort to create the wildfire smoke preparedness plan.

Garfield County Environmental Health Specialist Ted White told the Board of County Commissioners that the EPA was interested in Garfield County due to its varied topography and history of wildfires and strong air-quality monitoring.

“We’ve had experience with wildfire smoke events, whether that was in Garfield County or if it came from other areas of the country,” he said. “We also have a long history of a robust air-quality monitoring program.”

Roughly half of Garfield County falls in the three highest wildfire risk categories, according to the Colorado State Forest Fire Risk Map, and is prone to impacts from wildfire smoke. If the air quality index (AQI) indicates that hazardous levels of fine particulate matter (2.5 microns or less) exist, people may experience irritation, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest discomfort.

Those with asthma or heart disease, children, the elderly, or those who work outside are more likely to be affected by wildfire smoke. Prolonged exposure may lead to chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function, and increased risks of lung cancer and heart disease.

Partners on the plan included local public information officers; fire, public health, and environmental health experts; an agricultural specialist; and a representative from the Latino community. The plan can be viewed online at the county’s website.

“The purpose of the plan is to provide county staff and the public with a resource that describes the dangers of wildfire smoke,” White said. “The collaborative approach to developing this plan was used so it represented the diverse community of Garfield County to ensure it had a voice.”

“It’s a living, growing document that will continue to improve as time goes on,” added Commissioner John Martin.