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News / Northwest

Smoke, unhealthy air blanket half of Washington as wildfires dot the map

By Isabella Breda, The Seattle Times
Published: August 17, 2023, 5:45pm

SEATTLE — Unhealthy air arrived in Central and Eastern Washington on Thursday as smoke from wildfires blanketed the region.

Three fires burning in the North Cascades and one just over the Canadian border are sending smoke into the Methow Valley, the Okanogan Valley and near Lake Chelan that could remain for the next few days.

Over the weekend, some northerly or northeasterly winds could blow smoke toward Puget Sound, with Skagit and Whatcom counties likely to face the worst of it, said Matt Dehr, a wildland fire meteorologist for the State Department of Natural Resources.

Meanwhile, Washington is at the peak of values for fire danger, even on the west side of the state, Dehr said. “Some of our fire danger indices are hitting record highs, mostly in the South Puget Sound, but also in the North Cascades, Central Cascades.”

Air quality alerts were issued for Central and Eastern Washington communities through Monday morning.

“It wasn’t a matter of if, but when smoke would hit,” Kaitlyn Kelly, air quality policy specialist with the state Department of Health, said in a statement. “Wildfire smoke season is here in Washington, which means we need to be proactive about taking steps to protect ourselves.”

When smoke and unhealthy air quality arrives, the state Department of Health recommends closing windows and doors, filtering indoor air with an HVAC system, portable air cleaner, or homemade box fan filter, and limiting the use of candles or other things that may contribute to indoor air pollution.

People most likely to be affected by the health threats of smoke include those who have heart disease, or lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma; children; and those who are pregnant, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Minor symptoms of smoke exposure include eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath, according to the state. More serious symptoms include difficulty breathing, chest pain and irregular heartbeat. Seek medical attention if your symptoms are severe.

Live and local air quality information can be found at airnow.gov and wasmoke.blogspot.com. You also track wildfires currently burning within the U.S. at weather.gov/fire and inciweb.nwcg.gov.