DENVER (AP) -- The smoky, brown haze was back, dropping ash like snowflakes. Denverites were coughing again, rubbing their eyes and blowing noses.
The source of the trouble was 40 miles to the southwest: a 137,000-acre wildfire, polluting air the city has worked for decades to clean.
But officials called the brown clouds in June a temporary setback in a city close to being declared in compliance with federal standards.
"It's a significant feather in the cap of our government processes," said Steven Arnold, deputy director of the state's Air Pollution Control Division. "But the reward is really in better air and better health for the residents of Denver."
The city has come a long way from the 1970s and 1980s, when it would violate federal air standards for carbon monoxide or particulates a couple hundred times a year.
Now, Denver has gone nearly seven years without a violation.
The wildfires have caused some pollution and health problems. A 50-year-old woman died after smoke engulfed her home near Florissant on June 11. A doctor listed smoke inhalation and asthma as the cause of death.
And earlier this month, pollution levels neared 70 percent to 80 percent of federal limits during two 24-hour periods, but never exceeded them.
"The science is showing us more and more we need to be concerned about the exposure to short-term, high concentrations of particulate matter, especially for some people with respiratory problems," said Larry Svoboda, manager of air quality planning for the regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Last month, the EPA recommended removing Denver from a list of dirty cities that had violated five key pollution standards. The city had been on the list since 1987.
Part of the problem with Denver air is the city's location. Cool air descends from the Rocky Mountains and can trap smog or particulates like a blanket.
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