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Monday, July 9, 2012

Air Time: Summer weather sparks wildfire season

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

Rising summertime temperatures and lightning storms mean Washington’s wildfire season is officially under way.

This news release from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) details the current conditions and provides a number of useful links to find more information on wildfires.

The photo (at right) of the Navarre Fire in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest comes from InciWeb, which tracks wildfires throughout the United States.

From an air quality standpoint, wildfires produce plenty of harmful smoke. The biggest threat comes from the fine particles in smoke. These tiny particles can get into your eyes and lungs, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose and illness such as bronchitis. Fine particles also can aggravate heart and lung diseases, and even lead to death.

Here are some steps you can take to protect your health from wildfire smoke:
  • When there are wildfires in an area or region, the severity of the smoke impacts depends on weather patterns. If the air isn’t moving, the concentration of fine particles increases in the air.
  • Smoke from a fire can travel rapidly, affecting air quality hundreds of miles downwind.
  • Smoke from wildfires can impact the air you breathe and harm your health, especially if you have existing health conditions.
  • The Washington State Department of Health recommends that people who are sensitive to air pollution limit the time that they spend outdoors when smoke is in the air.
  • Children also are more susceptible to smoke because:
    • Their respiratory systems are still developing.
    • They breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults.
    • They’re more likely to be active outdoors.
  • When smoke levels are high enough, even healthy people may be affected. To protect yourself, it’s important to limit your exposure to smoke – especially if you are susceptible.

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