While the worst of the wildfire smoke seems to be behind us, we’re not in the clear quite yet.
Despite seeing a small bit of air quality improvement along the coast due to some showers and a little push of marine air, air quality around the Seattle area was in the familiar “unhealthy” or “very unhealthy” ranges Thursday and is expected to remain so for at least another day.
“There’s a weather system moving in tonight, which should help to improve air quality since we’re bringing a chance of rain with that,” Steve Reedy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle, said late Thursday afternoon.
Thunderstorms building in Oregon may also move into the Seattle area on Friday that could drift inland as the weekend begins, NWS meteorologist Samantha Borth said Thursday morning.
“We’re hoping tomorrow and Saturday we will get something more impactful that will scour out the smoke,” Borth said.
The state Department of Ecology is predicting “good to moderate” air in Western Washington by early Saturday and the same in Eastern Washington by Saturday night or Sunday morning — except for areas close to fires, according to a Thursday blog post from the department.
The department also noted there’s been “encouraging” smoke reductions on the Olympic Peninsula since Wednesday, with similar, though smaller, improvements in the Puget Sound area.
“But it is nearly over now and we don’t see an immediate return to terrible air next week, so hang in there Washington!” the post said.
In Seattle this year, the worst air quality index came in at 314 near Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood on Monday. That’s the worst the Puget Sound region has recorded, said Dan Jaffe, a physical science professor at University of Washington-Bothell who specializes in wildfire smoke.
“2018 was the highest ever,” Jaffe said. “We’ve now broken that record.”
In 2018, Jaffe said, the highest PM2.5 rating — which measures particulate matter, or how many tiny, inhalable particles are in the air — got up to around 150 micrograms per cubic meter. This week, Seattle hit 264.
The poor air quality has fueled a recent uptick in patient calls about respiratory issues.
At Harborview Medical Center, about three people have been coming in every day with respiratory problems — most of whom have an underlying medical condition, such as asthma or lung disease, said hospital spokesperson Susan Gregg on Thursday.
Overlake Medical Center’s pulmonary clinic in Bellevue is also reporting an increase in patients complaining about suffering symptoms from the wildfire smoke, according to hospital spokesperson Morgan Brice.
The advice from experts: Stay inside and breathe as little of that outside air as possible.
Jaffe added, however, that — while it depends on the age, type and ventilation system of a home — indoor air quality can sometimes be just as bad as outside. His advice is to pick up air-quality monitors and invest in reliable air-filtration systems.
“Think about identifying one or two rooms in your house and those are the rooms you’re going to protect,” Jaffe said. “Think about where you’re spending most of your time … and clean the air spaces there.”
While large fires continue to burn on the West Coast, the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center (NWCC) on Wednesday morning reported the containment of five large fires in Washington and Oregon: Evans Canyon, White River, Manning Road, Alameda and Babb. On Thursday morning, the Customs Road fire near Curlew, Ferry County, was also listed as 100% contained.
The smoke has aided efforts to contain the blazes of the Inchelium Complex — the combined name for the Fry, Inchelium Highway and Kewa Field fires on the Colville Reservation in northeast Washington — public information officer Howard Hunter said Thursday.
“Although it makes it hard to breathe and is unhealthy, it allowed us to get closer and closer, and three of our fires are now lined,” Hunter said Thursday. “It’s looking better and better every day and, hopefully, the forecast precipitation will get here.”
He said the Kewa Field fire is the most active, especially on the north side, and is expected to remain so until rain arrives this weekend.
By Wednesday night, the blazes had burned more than 813,594 acres of Washington state, an area about 15 times the size of Seattle. And although most of the fires started this month, the area burned is almost two-thirds the amount of land burned during the state’s record-breaking fire season of 2015.
The fires have also destroyed more than 400 structures — half of which were homes — and taken down several hundred power-transmission poles, Gov. Jay Inslee said. In Central Washington, he said, about 200 miles of power transmission lines were down.
Eight fires are being monitored by the NWCC, which gave the following status report Thursday afternoon:
- Inchelium Complex encompassing the Fry, Inchelium Highway and Kewa Field fires (started Sept. 7), north of Inchelium: 19,005 acres of grass, brush and timber (65 more than Wednesday), 62% contained, active fire behavior. Structures threatened. Evacuation notices in effect.
- Big Hollow fire (started Sept. 8), northwest of Carson: 22,973 acres of timber and slash (2,168 more than Wednesday), 25% completed, moderate fire behavior. Structures threatened. Evacuation notices and road, trail and area closures in effect.
- Whitney fire (started Sept. 7), northwest of Davenport: 127,430 acres of grass, brush and timber (unchanged since Wednesday), 95% contained, minimal fire behavior. Structures threatened.
- Cold Springs fire (started Sept. 6), south of Omak: 189,592 acres of grass and brush (740 more than Wednesday), 80% contained, minimal fire behavior. Structures threatened. Evacuation notices and road, trail and area closures in effect.
- Pearl Hill fire (started Sept. 7 when it split off from the Cold Springs fire), east of Bridgeport: 223,730 acres of grass and brush (unchanged since Wednesday afternoon), 94% contained, minimal fire behavior. Road and area closures in effect.
- Cold Creek fire (started Sept. 14), west of Yakima: 252 acres of timber (100 more than Wednesday), 5% contained, active fire behavior. Structures threatened. Road, trail and area closures in effect.
- Fish fire (started Sept. 8 by humans), east of Enumclaw: 132 acres of timber (unchanged since Wednesday), 75% contained, minimal fire behavior. Road closures in effect.
- Customs Road fire (started Sept. 7), northwest of Curlew: 2,208 acres of timber and brush (unchanged since Wednesday), 100% contained, minimal fire behavior.
The NWCC has given no update on these Washington fires since Wednesday:
- Sumner Grade fire (started Sept. 7), northeast of Waller: 494 acres of grass, brush and timber, 95% contained, minimal fire behavior.
- Apple Acres fire (started Sept. 7), northeast of Chelan: 5,500 acres of grass, timber and brush (273 fewer than Tuesday afternoon), 99% contained, minimal fire behavior.
The following Washington fires were considered contained as of Wednesday morning, according to the NWCC:
- Babb fire (started Sept. 7), north of Colfax: Burned at least 15,266 acres of grass, brush and timber.
- Manning Road fire (started Sept. 7), northeast of Colfax: Burned at least 2,685 acres of grass, brush and timber.
- Evans Canyon fire (started Aug. 31), northwest of Naches: Burned at least 75,817 acres of timber, grass and brush.