That weather system we were hoping would blow through Western Washington on Monday and clear out the smoke is turning out to be weaker than expected.
It could be Friday before we get another chance at the kind of rainy, windy weather we need to push the smoky air from our region, said meteorologist Dana Felton, of the National Weather Service in Seattle.
“Right now, with the system getting weaker, it’s not looking very good as far as improvement in air quality (Monday),” he said. “We’ve got to wait for another system later this week, and we could see smoke in the area at least through Friday.”
He said the smoke will also continue to keep temperatures cooler than usual. On Monday, the Seattle area hit a high of about 70 degrees, with some brief drizzles during the afternoon.
Throughout Washington on Monday, air quality was rated as being “unhealthy,” “very unhealthy” or “hazardous” on the state Department of Ecology’s interactive air-quality map.
So bad is the air on the West Coast of North America that on Monday, IQ Air, the Swiss manufacturer of air-cleaning equipment, rated Vancouver, B.C.; Portland; Seattle and San Francisco as having the worst air quality in the world.
The Puget Sound region will see similar weather with temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s Tuesday and Wednesday, though there’s less chance of precipitation, weather-service meteorologist Mary Butwin said.
A dozen wildfires continued to burn in Washington on both sides of the Cascades on Monday morning.
Most of the state’s larger fires were reported on Monday to be moderately to minimally active with several expected to be fully or partially controlled by midweek.
The blazes, most of which started in the past week, have already burned more than 790,000 acres in Washington, or more than 1,234 square miles, almost two-thirds the amount of land burned during the state’s record-breaking fire season of 2015.
“Extremely heavy smoke continued to pose limitations on travel and suppression operations over most of the region,” keeping most aircraft grounded, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center’s (NWCC) Monday morning update.
The most active fires are in southern and central Oregon, according to the NWCC, where increased winds and lower humidity hamper firefighting efforts.
Washington’s largest fire right now is the Pearl Hill fire, east of Bridgeport in Okanogan County, which has grown to more than 223,000 acres. It has destroyed more than 50 homes and other structures and threatens 785 others. It is 87% contained and the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center is estimating it might be fully contained early this week.
The Cold Springs fire, south of Omak in Okanogan County, has burned nearly 189,000 acres and is 50% contained. Multiple structures have been lost, and 110 residences and 75 other structures are threatened. The fire killed a 1-year-old boy and severely burned his parents as they fled.
The Whitney fire is burning northwest of Davenport in Lincoln County, and has burned 125,123 acres of grass, brush and timber. Evacuations and evacuation notices went into effect Thursday. By Monday morning, fire officials said the blaze was about 65% contained.
The Evans Canyon fire, which has destroyed six homes since it began Aug. 31, is about 8 miles northwest of Naches in Yakima County. It has burned 75,817 acres and was 90% contained by Monday morning.
The three fires that make up the Inchelium Complex — the Inchelium Highway fire, Fry fire and Kewa Field fire — are burning north of Inchelium in Ferry County on the Colville Indian Reservation and have grown to 18,212 acres. The complex is about 48% contained. This was reported to be the most active fire in Washington on Monday.
The Apple Acres fire, northeast of Chelan in Chelan County, is 97% contained and has burned 5,753 acres of grass, brush and timber.
The Big Hollow fire near Stabler, Skamania County, has burned nearly 21,000 acres of forest and has led to closures of roads and trails in the area. It threatens 42 homes and was only 10% contained by Monday morning.
The Babb-Malden/Manning fires northwest of Rosalia in Whitman County have grown to almost 18,000 acres of grass and brush. The fires, now 90% contained, destroyed much of the town of Malden, including 121 homes and 94 other structures including City Hall.
The Customs Road fire west of Curlew, Okanogan County, is about 2,208 acres and 60% contained but was still showing active fire behavior as of Monday morning. Five homes have been destroyed and 180 other homes and buildings are threatened.
Other large fires in Washington include the Downey Creek fire, which has burned 2,470 acres; the Paterson fire in Benton County, which has burned more than 1,300 acres of grass and brush; the Chikamin, which had consumed 1,252 acres; and the Beverly Burke fire, southeast of Vantage in Kittitas County, which by Sunday had burned 1,000 acres.
Felton, of the weather service, said that fire season around here typically wraps up in the last weeks of September to the middle of October.
“We still have about three weeks in fire season, but things are winding down,” he said.