Fires In Colorado

It seems like everywhere you go, there is a trigger for your asthma. That’s been my experience. When I lived on the east coast of the United States and Canada, it was humidity. When I lived in Seattle, Washington, it was the molds and the pollens. When I lived in the south of France, it was the winds. When I lived in California, it was the fires. Now I live in Denver, Colorado and my asthma is better than ever. Correction: was better than ever.

Fire on the mountain

On July 31st, 2020, a lighting strike started the ‘Pine Gulch’ near Grand Junction, Colorado. Due to drought-stressed vegetation, unseasonably high temperatures, and a second lightning storm, the fire would grow to be the largest wildfire in Colorado history; still raging as I'm writing this on September 7th.1

In the last weeks of August, the smoke that blanketed the city limited visibility to about a mile. Both the skyscrapers and the Rocky Mountains were left invisible, behind thick, brown, cloud of smoke. It felt apocalyptic as we would wake to a blood-red sun and watch the same crimson sunset into the shrouded mountain range. It was smoke as bad, or worse, than what I had experienced in California.

Fire in my lungs

Fire smoke is not the best thing for anyone’s lungs, however, for people with asthma, it can be especially irritating. When living in California, I learned that my asthma is very triggered by fire and wood smoke. While in Denver during this fire, I went from experiencing some of the best breathing I’ve ever had, to some of the worst lung pain I’ve had in my adult life.

Even with staying indoors and using my rescue inhaler consistently, I had a wheeze in my breath for over a week while we laid under the blanket of smoke. The tightness in my chest was unrelenting and accompanied by a heat in my lungs that made it feel as the fire were in my chest. My asthma was flared 100% but I was not having an attack. So I hunkered down in my house for about 2 weeks until the start of September when the smoke finally lifted.

A brief recess

After some rain, change of winds and some cooler weather, the smoke dissipated. The first thing my partner and I did was get to the mountains for some fresh air and some rock climbing. It was so refreshing and it felt as though the crux of the summer had passed; until yesterday.

More asthma-triggering fire and smoke

Yesterday, my partner and I were amazed at the speed that the smoke took over the city of Denver. In just a few hours, the landscape went from being clear skies to a second smoke blanket with visible ash falling all around. It turns out a new fire, much closer to us, has started and already exceeded 100,000 acres.2 The fire is called the ‘Cameron Peak’ fire, located just a couple hours northwest of Denver, near Fort Collins.

My asthma isn’t doing any better than the first smoke blanket. After a brief relief, I am back to lockdown in the house and my lungs in pain. It feels as though my lungs are bruised and my shortness of breath has returned. Luckily, I am stockpiled with a few up-to-date albuterol inhalers and have lots of work to keep me occupied indoors.

What’s to come?

As I conclude this, the blanket of smoke is getting thicker and getting cycled around with increasingly strong winds. However, in a freak weather event, the weather reads a 50-degree drop in air temperature overnight and 4” of snow first thing in the morning. I hope that kind of a weather drop won’t be yet another trigger! Colorado has its triggers, that much is clear.

Do smoke and fires trigger your asthma? Share in the comments below!

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