Here’s an update on how to find out about air quality, smoke plumes and road closures linked to Washington’s massive wildfires. Plus tips on finding out about fires/smoke in Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia and about fire-related road closures.
The smoke from massive wildfires raging in North Central Washington has created unhealthy, even hazardous, air pollution during the past week in some areas within and far beyond the state’s fire-stricken areas.
The rain forecast for this weekend could help ease the fires, and smoke, but conditions change rapidly. Here are ways to get information:
For travelers (and for locals and firefighters), a useful interactive map at the Washington Smoke Information website has air-quality reports from air-monitoring stations that are located throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
Fire/smoke safety for you and others
If you’re driving in thick smoke or in fire-prone areas, here are some tips to safeguard you and others:
• Turn your car’s air conditioner to recirculate so it stops pulling in smoky air.
• Drive with your headlights on.
• Do not throw cigarette butts out the window. In the tinder-dry conditions, they could start a fire.
• Do not park or drive through dry grass on roadsides or rural roads. The heat from a vehicle’s exhaust or a single spark can ignite a fire.
• If you’re camping, be aware that campfires are banned almost everywhere in the West because of the extreme fire danger.
• Oregon Public Health has a useful summary of the health effects of wildfire smoke, and minimizing your risk, at 1.usa.gov/1JwNVMa
The map is at wasmoke.blogspot.com and contains information from county, state and federal agencies and Indian tribes. You can use the map, and the air-quality forecasts on the website, to check the air pollution where you are or in places you plan to visit.
Click on “full map” at the bottom of the map, then on the color-coded dots to see the current air quality in a location. At the top right are tabs for a map legend and “layers” which lets you click to see the vast smoke plume that has spread across the western/central U.S. and into Canada.
Air quality is ranked from good to hazardous, based on the particulates level. Particulates are the tiny amounts of matter suspended in the gases that a fire emits; breathing it in can exacerbate or cause heart, lung and other health problems.
When air is ranked as “unhealthy,” as it was in Omak and other communities over the past week, the Washington Smoke Information website explains, “Many more people than average may have breathing problems or have worsened symptoms of existing lung or heart disease … Everyone should limit time spent outdoors … People with asthma, respiratory infection, diabetes, lung or heart disease, or (who) have had a stroke should stay indoors. Infants, children, pregnant women and adults over age 65 should also stay indoors.”
Here’s how to find out about smoke levels and driving conditions in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia.
SMOKE CONDITIONS: See The Washington Smoke Information website, wasmoke.blogspot.com. The state also has an air-quality map, with information from some additional monitoring stations, at fortress.wa.gov/ecy/enviwa/
ROAD CLOSURES: The North Cascades Highway (Highway 20) remained closed Tuesday on its western half because of a fire near Newhalem; Highway 20 was also closed near Twisp because of a fire.
For road conditions, see the Washington State Department of Transportation website, wsdot.wa.gov (click on “Travel Alerts”), or phone 511, the state’s recorded travel-information system (from outside Washington, phone 800-695-7623). Emergency closures also are posted on Twitter @wsdot. The DOT also has a new, zoomable map that shows fire-related road closures: arcg.is/1PE170I.
FIRE INFORMATION: Get details on the major wildfires around Chelan and Okanogan counties, evacuation orders and more at the federal government’s InciWeb website and at Okanogan and Chelan counties’ Facebook emergency pages.
For the Okanogan complex fires: inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4534/ and facebook.com/Okanogan.County.Emergency.Management, and on Twitter @okanogandem
For the Chelan complex fires: inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4538/ and facebook.com/pages/Chelan-County-Emergency-Management/188543097925415, and on Twitter @ChelanCountyEM
Oregon has some major wildfires, including in the northeast around the community of John Day (called the Canyon Creek wildfire).
SMOKE CONDITIONS: See oregonsmoke.blogspot.com. (It also shows air quality in Northern California.) Fires have made Medford and Ashland smoky at times.
ROAD CONDITIONS: The north entrance to Crater Lake National Park in south-central Oregon remained closed as of Tuesday afternoon because of a wildfire.
Get more Oregon road information at the state’s tripcheck.com/Pages or phone 511 (within Oregon) or 503-588-2941 from outside Oregon.
For information on all major Oregon wildfires, see inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/38/.
Idaho has a rash of wildfires, poor air quality and thick smoke in some communities, including around the resort town of McCall.
SMOKE CONDITIONS: See a map, air-quality reports and forecasts at idsmoke.blogspot.com/
Related video: Residents evacuate, volunteer to fight fires"We just have a lot invested here," says Jim Brown of Okanogan as he prepares to leave his home. With the state's resources tapped, community members are signing up to be volunteer firefighters. Read more. (Bettina Hansen & Lauren Frohne / The Seattle Times)
ROAD CONDITIONS: Get reports from the Idaho Department of Highways at 511.idaho.gov/. Or phone 511 within Idaho or 888-432-7623 from outside the state.
FIRE INFORMATION: Get links to reports on major Idaho wildfires at inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/13/
There are dozens of wildfires throughout the province, including in southeast British Columbia. Heavy smoke has drifted into B.C.’s Okanagan, a popular vacation destination, from Washington’s fires.
SMOKE CONDITIONS: Get smoke conditions and forecasts for Western Canada at firesmoke.ca.
ROAD CONDITIONS: See drivebc.ca for details or phone 800-550-4997 for automated info, within and outside B.C.
FIRE INFORMATION: Get an overview of the province’s wildfires at bcwildfire.com/Situation. See fire locations on the interactive map: bit.ly/1sjFlEG.