Editor’s note: This is a live account of wildfire updates from Friday, Sept. 18, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated.
Although the recent hot and dry weather fueling Washington’s wildfires has started to wind down, the smoke from the blazes has stuck around over the Puget Sound region. On the bright side, showers rolling in could start to funnel the haze away from us — but thunderstorms could be on the way as well.
Throughout Friday, on this page, we’ll post updates on the wildfires and their effects on the Seattle area, Washington state and the West Coast. Updates from Thursday are here.
Parts of now smoky rural Nevada lack government air monitors
CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada has been largely spared from the blazes roaring through the West; the state is currently experiencing no active wildfires.
But wildfire smoke — full of particulate matter and metals from scorched houses and forests — has cloaked much of the state, forcing schools to close and residents to go inside, even in areas where government air quality maps don’t show hazardous conditions.
Maps that depict hazardous conditions in surrounding states show a conspicuous blank space over much of Nevada. But untrained observers and Californians looking for a nearby place with breathable outdoor air should not assume smoke and hazardous air quality has spared regions that appear untouched by the Environmental Protection Agency’s interactive AirNow map.
“During wildfire smoke events, areas without monitors can experience high levels of fine particulate matter, regardless of whether a monitor is there to detect it,” Meredith Kurpius, an assistant director in agency’s Air and Radiation Division, said in a statement.
In Nevada, county officials oversee air quality monitoring in Reno and Las Vegas, the state’s most populous cities. Both issued smoke advisories this week. In the state’s 15 remaining counties, the Department of Environmental Protection operates nine air monitors, including in Gardnerville, 15 miles (24 kilometers) south of Carson City, where air montors reported a 249 on the Air Quality Index on Wednesday.
Verizon to donate $300,000 to wildfire and hurricane relief efforts throughout country
The Verizon Foundation announced Friday its plan to donate $300,000 to support wildfire relief efforts in California, Oregon and Washington, as well as areas in Alabama and Florida hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.
About $200,000 will go to the American Red Cross for fire relief on the West Coast, and the remaining $100,000 will go to Feeding the Gulf Coast's emergency hurricane response, according to a Verizon statement.
“While 2020 continues to be an unpredictable and challenging year across the country and around the globe, you can be certain we’ll be there to support our communities in a time of crisis,” Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said in the statement. “We will ensure they stay connected when those connections matter most and help them get back on their feet.”
Verizon customers can contribute to the Red Cross disaster relief efforts by texting "HURRICANES OR CAWILDFIRES" to 90999, and $10 will be added to their Verizon Wireless bill, the statement said.
The company will also provide unlimited calling, texting and data through Sept. 23 to customers impacted by the West Coast blazes. Customers in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi impacted by Hurricane Sally can also received unlimited calling, texting and data through Sept. 21.
Air quality finally improves in Seattle area as shifting wind, rain scour region
The otherworldly smoke blanketing the Puget Sound region is beginning to dissipate because of shifting winds and showers that began Friday afternoon.
Those showers were accompanied by some thunderstorms in parts of Western Washington early Friday evening, including near Bremerton, said Art Gaebel, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle.
Scattered showers are expected to continue into Saturday, Gaebel said.
By Friday evening, the air quality in Seattle and Tacoma was considered “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” a step up from the “unhealthy” and “very unhealthy” categories, according to the state Department of Ecology’s air monitoring network.
Conditions have improved along the coast where the air quality is listed as “good,” though air in much of Eastern Washington is still reported as “unhealthy.” Areas east of the Cascades are about a day behind, but will start seeing significant improvements by Sunday, according to a Friday afternoon blog post from the state Department of Ecology. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow network is reporting similar improvement in air quality Friday evening.
Native Americans feel double pain of COVID-19 and fires ‘gobbling up the ground’
When the first fire of the season broke out on the Hoopa Valley Reservation in Northern California in July, Greg Moon faced a dilemma.
As Hoopa’s fire chief and its pandemic team leader, Moon feared the impact of the blaze on the dense coniferous forests of the reservation, near Redwood National and State Parks, where 3,000 tribal members depend on steelhead trout and coho salmon fishing. He was even more terrified of a deadly viral outbreak in his tribe, which closed its land to visitors in March.
Eventually, the three major blazes that burned nearly 100,000 acres around Hoopa were too much for the tribe’s 25-member fire team. Moon had no choice but to request help from federal wildland rangers and other tribal firefighters.
Native American tribes are no strangers to fire. Working with flames to burn away undergrowth and bring nutrients and biodiversity back to lands is an ingrained part of their heritage. But epidemics are also a familiar scourge. With the devastation that pathogens like smallpox and measles brought to Native populations following the arrival of Europeans, tribes are especially wary of COVID-19’s impact.
Some tribes have abandoned traditional fire suppression techniques, watching large swaths of land burn in order to protect a more fragile and essential resource: their people.
Renton couple whose child died in wildfire recovering from burn wounds, family says
A Renton couple whose child was killed in the Cold Springs fire in Okanogan County last week remains in serious condition for their extensive burn wounds, but is “miraculously recovering” at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, a family member said in a video posted by the hospital Friday.
Burn specialists are currently caring for the couple — Jacob Hyland, 31, and Jamie Hyland, 26 — in the hospital’s intensive-care unit, according to a Friday statement from Harborview. They’re asking for privacy at this time, the statement said.
Dawnmarie Baxter, Jamie Hyland’s sister, said in a video posted Friday that the two are “meeting and exceeding the expectations for their recovery.”
“We’re getting a lot of questions about my nephew, and we haven’t even had time to process that because we’re still putting everything into our efforts to support Jamie and Jacob. … Just know they’re at peace, as much as they can be, and they’ll share if they want to when the time is right,” she said.
What health officials say you should do once the air quality improves
How clear of wildfire smoke do the skies above Western Washington need to be before people can safely open the doors and windows of their homes to welcome in the fresh air?
The first thing to do is to check the air quality. A good place to start after looking out the window is the state Department of Ecology’s air monitoring network map, which shows air quality across the state.
The air quality Friday afternoon for most of the Puget Sound region is considered “unhealthy,” according to the Department of Ecology, which is an improvement from earlier in the week.
Here are some tips from health officials once it does improve to "moderate" or "good."
Wildfires' toxic air leaves damage long after the smoke clears
Researchers have been studying the affect of wildfire smoke on the residents of Seeley Lake, Mont., for three years.
Forest fires had funneled hazardous air into Seeley Lake, a town of fewer than 2,000 people, for 49 days. The air quality was so bad that on some days the monitoring stations couldn’t measure the extent of the pollution. The intensity of the smoke and the length of time residents had been trapped in it were unprecedented, prompting county officials to issue their first evacuation orders due to smoke, not fire risk.
Many people stayed. That made Seeley Lake an ideal place to track the long-term health of people inundated by wildfire pollution.
While it’s long been known that smoke can be dangerous when in the thick of it — triggering asthma attacks, cardiac arrests, hospitalizations and more — the Seeley Lake research confirmed what public health experts feared: Wildfire haze can have consequences long after it’s gone.
Seattle air quality steadily improving
The air quality in the Seattle area is getting better.
The air quality for most of the Puget Sound region is now considered “unhealthy” according to the state Department of Ecology’s air monitoring network.
On Tuesday the air quality was listed as "hazardous," which is the most dangerous level used by the Department of Ecology. By Wednesday the air moved into the "very unhealthy" category.
The skies are expected to keep improving as a weather system pushes in from the coast bringing showers to the region, said Dustin Guy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle.
"That precipitation will contribute to improving air quality," he said.
Conditions have improved along the coast where the air quality is listed as “good.”
Firefighter dies battling California wildfire sparked by gender reveal
A firefighter died battling a wildfire in California that officials said was sparked by a device used to reveal a baby’s gender.
The death happened Thursday in the San Bernardino National Forest as crews battled the El Dorado Fire, the U.S. Forest Service said in a statement.
The fire erupted earlier this month from a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used by a couple to reveal their baby’s gender, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said.
The name of the firefighter was being withheld until family members are notified. The cause of the death was under investigation.
“Our deepest sympathies are with the family, friends and fellow firefighters during this time,” Forest Service spokesperson Zach Behrens said in the statement.
How wildfire smoke driving people inside could affect the spread of the new coronavirus
If people are spending more time indoors to avoid wildfire smoke, how could that affect the spread of the coronavirus?
It depends on how people spent time indoors.
If people all hunkered down with the same people they’ve been with since Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order began in March, that could help slow the virus’s spread.
“Staying inside probably decreases their risk because they’re not going out and doing things that put them at risk to be exposed to COVID that they’re then bringing home to their airspace, in their houses, and exposing their families,” said Dr. Chloe Bryson-Cahn, associate medical director of Harborview Medical Center’s infection prevention program.
On the other hand, if avoiding the outdoors meant more people opted to sit inside a restaurant or bar, or have people over inside their homes, that’s another story.
Fires continue to burn across Washington state
Wildfires continue to blaze across Washington even as the smoke that has choked Western Washington begins to dissipate.
There has been some good news east of the Cascades as several fires have been completely contained, including the Customs Road, Manning Road, Evans Canyon and Babb fires, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center (NWCC).
Seven fires in Washington state are being monitored by the NWCC, which gave the following status report Friday morning:
- 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 (same as Thursday), 67% contained, active fire behavior. Structures threatened. Evacuation notices in effect.
- Big Hollow fire (started Sept. 8), northwest of Carson: 24,309 acres of timber and slash (1,336 more than Thursday), 25% completed, minimal fire behavior. Structures threatened. Evacuation notices and road, trail and area closures in effect.
- Cold Creek fire (started Sept. 14), west of Yakima: 400 acres of timber (148 more than Thursday), 5% contained, active fire behavior. Structures threatened. Road, trail and area closures in effect.
- Cold Springs fire (started Sept. 6), south of Omak: 189,923 acres of grass and brush (331 more than Thursday), 85% 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 Thursday), 94% contained, minimal fire behavior. Road and area closures in effect.
- Fish fire (started Sept. 8 by humans), east of Enumclaw: 132 acres of timber (unchanged since Thursday), 75% contained, minimal fire behavior. Road closures in effect.
- Whitney fire (started Sept. 7), northwest of Davenport: 127,430 acres of grass, brush and timber (unchanged since Thursday), 95% contained, minimal fire behavior. Structures threatened.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
A firefighter has died while battling a California blaze sparked by a "gender reveal" party.
How did the West's fires get so bad? It all began as a stunning light show.
And oops: Gov. Jay Inslee delivered comfort — and illegal apples — to communities ravaged by wildfires.
How are the wildfires affecting you?
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