The Pacific Northwest is in the midst of one of the hottest and driest summers in recent memory, and as a result, one of the worst forest fire seasons in regional history. There are more than two dozen fires burning in Oregon and Washington alone. Montana officials have called this one of the five worst fire seasons in state history.
The air quality is so bad, several of this weekend's scheduled college football games might have to be relocated, or cancelled all together.
You are here to read about college football games affected by forest fires, so we will list the games that could potentially be affected below, but it should be noted that the real concerns are the millions of acres of forest and scrub land, dozens of homes, and at least one life lost to these fires. To help, donate to the American Red Cross Western Wildfires fund here.[divider]
The Cougars are scheduled to host the Broncos in a rematch of last season's nail-biter in Boise, which Boise State won 31-28. But as of Thursday afternoon, the air quality index (AQI) in Pullman was 182. The Environmental Protection Agency considers anything over 150 "unhealthy".
The Mountain West has a rule that states none of its member schools will host a game if the AQI is over 150, and though the Pac-12 has no such rule, Pac-12 Vice President for Communications Dave Hirsch indicated to the Idaho Statesman that they would follow provisions laid out in the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports, which provided general guidance on air quality concerns:
"Member schools should consider modifying or canceling outdoor athletic events (practices and competitions) in accordance with AQI guidance. Exposure should be managed more conservatively for student-athletes with pre-existing pulmonary or cardiac conditions, which may exacerbate the complications of these conditions and could lead to an acute medical emergency. Specifically, schools should consider removing athletes with pre-existing pulmonary or cardiac conditions from outdoor practice or competition venues at an AQI over 100. At AQIs of over 150, all athletes should be closely monitored. All athletes should be removed from outdoor practice or competition venues at AQIs of 200 or above." – NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports
Here's what the AQI index looked like in the Pacific Northwest around midday Thursday (from the EPA):
Weather experts predict some of the smoke will blow off Thursday, but many of the fires are not even partially contained yet.
The University of Idaho is just 7.4 miles from Washington State University, so forecasts for the Idaho vs. UNLV game are pretty much identical to the forecast for the WSU vs. Boise State game. However, Idaho plays their home games the Kibbie Dome, an enclosed facility.
The Vandals-Rebels showdown might not be the only game in the Kibbie Dome on Saturday. If conditions are bad enough, Washington State officials could consider asking their neighbors to help host a double-feature. [divider]
Washington vs. Montana
Montana will go from a "Very Unhealthy" AQI of 215 in Missoula, Montana to a "Moderate" AQI of 70 in Seattle. But as you can see in the image at the top of this article, an AQI of 70 is still not fun.
Seattle experienced falling ash on Tuesday and Wednesday, but the Seattle smoke should clear up by the weekend.
Eugene's current AQI is 113, which is not great, but certainly not as bad as cities farther inland. Here's what an AQI of 113 looks like:
The smoky view from inside Autzen Stadium. pic.twitter.com/za1VFqVnnc
— Tyson Alger (@tysonalger) September 5, 2017
Oregon will presumably follow the same rules as Washington State — whatever the Pac-12 spells out.
The AQI in Corvallis was 90 on Thursday, which is "Moderate" on the EPA scale. The forecast calls for it to clear up slightly, and it is already much clearer than it was just two days ago:
Just heard back from the Pac-12. Oregon hosts Nebraska, and Oregon St. hosts Minnesota on Saturday. Air quality at moment still "hazardous." pic.twitter.com/E4hcDiS8a1
— Andrew Greif (@AndrewGreif) September 5, 2017
In what was supposed to be one of the premier non-conference FCS matchups of the 2017 season, North Dakota State will travel to Eastern Washington Saturday. Or, they will, if the air quality gets better.
The AQI in Spokane (the closest major city to EWU's Roos Field in Cheney, Washington) was 277 on Thusday. The EPA calls an AQI over 250 "Very Unhealthy", and an AQI of 277 borders on the worst of all distinctions: "Hazardous". AQI is considered Hazardous when it gets over 300.
"We’re going to take it hour by hour," Eastern Washington football coach Aaron Best told the Spokesman Review Tuesday, "Steps are being taken to exhaust all options."