By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program
Saturday morning (Sept. 22, 2012) Air quality remains in the “hazardous” category in the Wenatchee area and nearby communities such as Cashmere and Pateros, according to the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology).
However, some areas along the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains did see some improvement in air quality overnight. Leavenworth, Yakima (both “unhealthy”), Ellensburg (“moderate”) and Cle Elum (“good”) saw some clearing overnight. But winds did push some smoke into the Methow Valley overnight, leading to “unhealthy” conditions.
A red flag warning remains in effect because of the threat of thunderstorms and lightning today. “The weather system should also help stir things up a bit and lead to a small improvement in air quality in these areas, but we certainly hope it won’t spark more wildfires,” said Ecology forecaster Ranil Dhammapala.
Air quality in the Columbia Basin and Spokane has shown some marginal improvement over the last day to the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” category. Air in these areas should improve slightly over the weekend. Pullman and Clarkston were impacted Friday by smoke from Idaho wildfires; air quality this morning was in the “unhealthy” and “very unhealthy” categories, respectively, in those communities. However, some clearing is possible today because smoke from Idaho is expected to be less of a problem.
Some cooler temperatures are on tap for Eastern Washington next week, which could help reduce fire activity.
All residents in the Wenatchee area should stay indoors and curtail their physical activities both indoors and outside. Doors and windows should remain closed. In the remainder of the Yakima and Columbia Basin common sense precautions should be taken by everyone, but sensitive groups, such as children, the elderly and heart patients, are particularly vulnerable.
The biggest health threat comes from the fine particles in smoke. These can cause burning eyes, runny nose, bronchitis and other illnesses. Smoky air also can aggravate heart and lung diseases, and even lead to death.
You can find news and information about smoke and wildfires from a variety of state, local and federal agencies on a new Washington Smoke Information blog.
Central Washington University is providing information for students and their families online.
The Washington State Department of Health has provided more than 20,000 respirators to the health districts in Kittitas, Chelan and Douglas counties. A document with answers to frequently asked questions about wildfire smoke also is available.
The National Weather Service has issued an Air Quality Alert for much of eastern Washington.
Gov. Gregoire has issued a burn ban in Eastern Washington, which is in effect until midnight Monday.