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Wildfire smoke triggers health complaints, warnings in Anchorage area

Laurel Andrews
Firefighter Spencer McLean of Central Emergency Services places a water and foam mixture on the on the brush and trees along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
ANNE RAUP / Anchorage Daily News Boaters, bikers, four-wheeler enthusiasts and others flocked to Eklutna Lake in Chugach State Park on Memorial Day, May 26, 2014, despite heavy smoke from the wildfires burning in Southcentral Alaska.
Anne Raup
Local resident Sue Looney watches for embers jumping the river on the Kenai Keys side of the Kenai River at 2:13 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Brian Looney
Members of the Houston, Alaska fire department stage their personnel and equipment in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014. The area was later evacuated.
Loren Holmes
A pyrocumulonimbus cloud forms above the northern flank of the Funny River fire on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Jeff Stark of the Alaska Smokejumpers lays fire hose at a cabin on the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
A firefighter from Central Emergency Service monitors the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Wildfire smoke obscures the Chugach Mountains as Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks at the Anchorage Veterans Memorial Rededication Ceremony held Monday morning, May 26, 2014, on the Delaney Park Strip.
Erik Hill
Fire crews arrive and help search through dense smoke to find embers in the Kenai Keys Subdivision at 2:42 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Brian Looney
From left, Arianna Moonin, 11, Tristan Moonin, 8, Kammy Highlands-Vatshelle, 9, Elias Moonin, 12, and Tatiana Moonin, 9 play on a trampoline in the Funny River neighborhood while a forest fire burns behind them on Sunday, May 25, 2014. Their neighborhood was evacuated an hour later.
Loren Holmes
Dan Desmarais, left, helps his neighbor John Hohl water his home and yard in advance of the nearby Funny River fire on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014. HohlÕs home is near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna.
Loren Holmes
Land owners check on their Bear Creek cabin on the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
Firefighters hydrate while monitoring the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Helicopters dump water on flames on the south side of the Kenai River to hold the line at 3:08 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014, across from Kenai Keys.
Brian Looney
A helicopter drops water on a hot spot near the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
An airplane prepares to drop retardant on a fire burning on the edge of Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Wildland firefighters and supplies are positioned at the Bear Creek subdivision on the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
A firefighter works the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Gov
Helicopters scoop water from the Kenai River to hold the line on the south side of the river at 3:09 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Brian Looney
An Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter gathers water from Aurora Lake to dump on the Funny River fire, burning nearby on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
A fire burns on the edge of Lake Road in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Streams of smoke billow from the Funny River wildfire along the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
A goat named Snickers that lives at Mile 9 of Funny River Road was relocated to Soldotna during the wildfire on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Planes dump water on the south side of the Kenai River at 3:34 p.m. Saturday, May 24, 2014, across from Kenai Keys.
Brian Looney
Driver Mike Morris monitors a ridge beyond a group of firefighters working on a fire line near Aurora Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014. Morris is looking for any sign of the fire encroaching on the firefighters.
Loren Holmes
Chris Lucas watches a fire burn near his home off of Lake Road in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
A helicopter shuttles firefighters to the remote Bear Creek subdivision on north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
Sierra Chapman, 11, feeds leaves from a tree to some of the 10 goats and 4 Alpaca's that live at Mile 9 of Funny River Road that were relocated to Soldotna on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Central Emergency Services firefighter Sarah Smith informs Funny River residents Pete Chaussee, left, Angela Rhodes, and Dan Smith of the current Funny River fire conditions from a lookout point at the end of Alaska View Lane in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
An Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter prepares to gather water from Aurora Lake to dump on the Funny River fire, burning nearby on Sunday, May 25, 2014. Behind the helicopter is a pyrocumulonimbus cloud, created by fire activity on the north east edge of the fire.
Loren Holmes
John Hohl, left, rushes to clear spruce from his home near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014. With him is his brother Levi Hohl, in red, and friend Sam Werner.
Loren Holmes
Photo by Karol Raszkiewicz Smoke from the Funny River Horse Trail fire rises above the peninsula Thursday evening, May 22, 2014. Raszkiewicz was on a flight from Dillingham to Anchorage when she made the aerial image of the smoke.
Karol Raszkiewicz
A helicopter dropped water on the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
John Hohl walks the fire line near his home on Sunday morning, May 25, 2014. He and his brother were putting out hot spots.
Loren Holmes
Children play on a trampoline north of Browns Lake Road on Rabbit Run on Sunday afternoon, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
A firefighter warns Sam Werner, left, and Levi Hohl of a fire that jumped a fire line a half mile from where they were working to try to secure Levi HohlÕs brotherÕs property near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014. They were evacuated shortly afterwards.
Loren Holmes
Heavy smoke from the Funny River wildfire is visible in the distance from Erik Hansen Scout Park in Kenai on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
A helicopter that dropped water on the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014, gets another bucket of water.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Sam Werner walks a fire line near Browns Lake, looking for hot spots, on Saturday, May 24, 2014. The Funny River fire had burned up to the line three hours before.
Loren Holmes
An airplane drops retardant on a fire line near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
John Hohl, right, is exhausted and frustrated after being evacuated from his home near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014. From a neighborÕs home, he watched the fire burn less than a half mile from his home.
Loren Holmes
Incident commander Rob Allen of the Alaska Incident Management Team addresses questions during a community meeting at Tustumena Elementary School near Kasilof that was attended by over two hundred people on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
A helicopter dropped water on the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
A hot spot flares up along the edge of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Browns Lake on Sunday morning, May 25, 2014. The Funny River fire was temporarily stopped here overnight, but changing conditions prompted officials to issue an evacuation order for neighborhoods directly across the line.
Loren Holmes
Dan Desmarais, left, and Steve Schumacher watch the Funny River fire from DesmaraisÕ deck on Browns Lake on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Sam Werner rests in Dan DesmaraisÕ yard after working furiously to clear trees from his friend John HohlÕs nearby property near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014. Werner and others were told to evacuate as the fire jumped a fire line less than a half mile from HohlÕs home.
Loren Holmes
Rem West hits a tee shot on the 7th hole at the Bird Homestead Golf Course off Funny River Road on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014, with a column of smoke from the wildfire visible in the distance.
Bill Roth
The Hooper Bay crew, Type 2 wildland firefighters, hike towards the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Gov. Sean Parnell surveys the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014, on the Kenai Peninsula.
Photo courtesy Office of the Governor
Central Emergency Services firefighters put out hot spots along the edge of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Browns Lake on Sunday morning, May 25, 2014. The Funny River fire was temporarily stopped here overnight, but changing conditions prompted officials to issue an evacuation order for neighborhoods directly across the line.
Loren Holmes
Helicopters drop water on the Funny River fire near Browns Lake on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Skilak lake is shrouded in smoke from the Funny River fire on Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Wildfire officials held a community meeting at Tustumena Elementary School near Kasilof that was attended by over two hundred people on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Sterling resident Brian McCorison drove up Funny River Road on Tuesday, May 27, 2014 to check out the area where the Funny River fire was thought to have started. The evacuation order has been lifted and residents along the road have been allowed to return.
Loren Holmes
The Hooper Bay Type 2 wildland firefighters prepare to hike into the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Fire reaches the south side of the Kenai River, just across from the Kenai Keys Subdivision, at 1:50 p.m. Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Brian Looney
Central Emergency Services firefighters walk the fire line along the edge of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Browns Lake on Sunday morning, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
A fire flares up south of Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
A sign warns campers of burn bans in effect at a campsite along Skilak Lake Saturday afternoon, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Wildfire officials held a community meeting at Tustumena Elementary School near Kasilof that was attended by over two hundred people on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Sterling resident Brian McCorison drove up Funny River Road on Tuesday, May 27, 2014 to check out the area where the Funny River fire was thought to have started. The evacuation order has been lifted and residents along the road have been allowed to return.
Loren Holmes
The Hooper Bay Type 2 wildland firefighters prepare to hike into the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Boats and equipment are ferried away from a cabin and away from the approaching fire on the south side of the Kenai River at 1:54 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014, near Kenai Keys.
Brian Looney
Central Emergency Services firefighter Sarah Smith informs residents Mike Foust and Danna Moisii of the current Funny River fire conditions from a lookout point at the end of Alaska View Lane in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014. In the distance, a hot spot flares up from the still very active fire.
Loren Holmes
From left, Levi Hohl, Steve Schumacher, John Hohl and Dan Desmarais watch fire activity from DesmaraisÕ deck on Browns Lake on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Photo courtesy of Fred and Cecilia Colvin A resident took a picture of the wall of flame erupting about 10:35 p.m. Friday night (May 23, 2014) off Heavy Down Drive near mile 105 on the east side of the Sterling Highway before people there were evacuated.
Fred and Cecilia Colvin
Clouds of smoke rise above small airplanes parked at the Soldotna Airport near Funny River Road on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Officials lifted the evacuation order for the Funny River neighborhood on Tuesday, May 27, 2014, and residents began returning shortly after 9:00am.
Loren Holmes
The Hooper Bay Type 2 wildland firefighter crew hikes into the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
A last load out from a cabin on the south side of the Kenai River is unloaded on the gravel beach at Kenai Keys at 1:58 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Brian Looney
The Funny River fire burns near the northern edge of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Browns Lake on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
An ember burns in the northern portion of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday, May 24, 2014. The area, along a fire line south of Browns Lake, had burned three hours before.
Loren Holmes
Mary Joe McElroy, Katie Blossom, and Marina Bosick get an update on the Funny River wildfire by cell phone at their Bear Creek cabin in the remote subdivision on the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
Smokey warns motorist driving south on the Sterling Highway near Soldotna that the fire danger was "Extreme" on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Firefighters mop up hot spots along Funny River Road on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. The evacuation order has been lifted and residents along the road have been allowed to return to their homes.
Loren Holmes
Firefighter Matt Tegerdine of Central Emergency Services monitors a hot spot to prevent the wildfire from crossing Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Smoke obscures sight of a cabin on the south side of the Kenai River at 1:59 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014, across from Kenai Keys.
Brian Looney
The Funny River fire burns near the northern edge of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Browns Lake on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Firefighters douse hot spots along a fire line near Browns Lake on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Loren Holmes
Streaks of wildfire debris float on the surface of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
A bulldozer clears a line off Funny River Road on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
The Chena Hot Shots, a Type 1 wildland firefighting crew from Fairbanks, hikes along Funny River Road while battling the wildfire on Thursday evening, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Firefighters mop up hot spots along Funny River Road on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. The evacuation order has been lifted and residents along the road have been allowed to return to their homes.
Loren Holmes
Trees burn to the edge of the water on the south side of the Kenai River at 2:01 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014, across from Kenai Keys.
Brian Looney
Central Emergency Services firefighters monitor hot spots that had crossed the fire line near Alaska View Lane in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Sunday, May 25, 2014. The area was evacuated later that day.
Loren Holmes
Sam Werner, left, and Levi Hohl put out hot spots along a fire line near HohlÕs brotherÕs home near Browns Lake in the Funny River neighborhood of Soldotna on Saturday, May 24, 2014. The Funny River fire had burned up to the line three hours before.
Loren Holmes
Jeff Stark of the Alaska Smokejumpers lays fire hose at a cabin in the on the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth
An air tanker drops water on the wildfire along Funny River Road on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
Bill Roth
Firefighters mop up hot spots along Funny River Road on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. The evacuation order has been lifted and residents along the road have been allowed to return to their homes.
Loren Holmes
A river boat stands offshore in front of the fire line on the south side of the Kenai River at 2:03 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 2014, across from Kenai Keys.
Brian Looney
An Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter dumps water on the Funny River fire on Sunday, May 25, 2014.
Loren Holmes
A bulldozer clears a fire line on Saturday, May 24, 2014, protecting the Funny River neighborhood from a wildfire that has topped 100 thousand acres in size.
Loren Holmes
Jeff Stark of the Alaska Smokejumpers lays fire hose at a cabin on the north shore of Tustumena Lake on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Bill Roth

Wildfire smoke lingering in Anchorage and surrounding areas was causing health problems for some residents Thursday morning.

Kyle Wiertsema, a medical assistant at Providence Senior Care Center in Anchorage, had received about 10 calls from seniors who were having difficulty breathing Thursday morning. "I'm sure I'm going to be getting more before the end of the day," he said.

Staying indoors is the best bet to minimizing the smoke's effects, and "if there are air filters available, definitely use them," Wiertsema said.

But "essentially, really there's not much to do to escape," he said.

Air quality in Anchorage and Eagle River was considered "unhealthy" until around 11 a.m., when an overnight temperature inversion began to lift and dissipating smoke allowed officials to bump the rating to "moderate," said Matt Stichick, environmental engineer with the Anchorage air quality program. South Anchorage was seeing even heavier smoke early Thursday morning.

But "we could be in the same position" Friday morning, Stichick said, with heavy smoke settling in again. Shifting winds forecast for Saturday also could carry even more smoke from the Funny River fire on the Kenai Peninsula into Anchorage.

"It could be an interesting weekend," Stichick said.

Visibility at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, listed as 1.5 miles early Thursday, had improved to 10 miles by noon.

Air quality advisories were in effect Thursday in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Kenai Peninsula. But outdoor after-school activities for the Anchorage School District were going forward as planned, according to spokesperson Heidi Embley.

In Mat-Su, air quality ranged from unhealthy to hazardous, according to a press release sent out by Frankie Barker, environmental planner with the borough.

Providence Senior Care Center was issuing rescue inhalers to seniors with asthma and other respiratory illnesses to use in addition to normal inhalers.

Other complaints included dry, itchy eyes, Wiertsema said. The center is recommending over-the-counter eye drops to keep eyes moistened.

John Tappel, a pediatrician with LaTouche Pediatrics, had seen a few patients Thursday morning with complaints due to smoke.

"Generally it's burning eyes and coughing," he said.

Children are more susceptible than adults to particulate matter in the air, Tappel said. Because of their high metabolic rate, kids breathe more air per in relation to their weight, Tappel said. They also have smaller airways, making them more susceptible to symptoms.

Respiratory illnesses are compounded by three factors: high pollen counts, lingering wintertime viral illnesses and now smoke. It's "the perfect storm for respiratory illness," Tappel said.

Parents of children who have respiratory conditions should be sure to have medications at hand, Tappel said.

Dr. Marek Martynowicz, pulmonologist with Providence Alaska Medical Center, said smoke exacerbates patient breathing tubes and can cause upper respiratory problems such as congestion and cough.

He hasn't seen a significant increase in patient phone calls due to the smoke, "which actually surprised me," he said.

An uptick in issues is possible if smoke lingers through the weekend. "The longer people get exposed to it, the more it may cause problems," he said.

The Anchorage Health Department was advising residents to stay indoors Thursday, especially those with heart and lung problems, Stichick said. An N95 respirator mask can also help to reduce particulate matter but won't remove all the components of smoke, Stichick said.

Wearing a mask is a "trade-off," however, because the mask's resistance makes breathing more difficult, he said. Thus, a mask may not be suitable for people with respiratory ailments, Stichick said.

The city Thursday morning was looking for a "respite" center with good indoor air quality that could accommodate patients but was unable to locate a building with suitable filtration.

"If people are inundated with smoke in their home, they may want to seek alternative arrangements," Stichick said.

"Unhealthy" air conditions are defined as visibility of 1.5 to 2.5 miles, according to the Fairbanks North Star Borough's smoke visibility and air quality index. In these conditions, people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children should avoid prolonged exertion, and the general population should limit prolonged exertion.

"Very unhealthy" occurs when visibility drops to between three-quarters mile and 1.5 miles. People with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children should avoid any outdoor activity. Everyone else should avoid prolonged exertion.

"Hazardous" conditions occur when visibility is three-quarters of a mile or less. In those conditions, everyone should avoid outdoor exertion.

 


By LAUREL ANDREWS
Alaska Dispatch