Friday, July 20, 2018

Spokane Prepping for Poor Air Quality

Written by,

Dr. Bob Lutz, Health Officer, Spokane Regional Health District

With Spokane’s history in recent summers of poor air quality due to regional wildfires, it is no longer an issue of “if” air quality will be a concern in the summer, but “when.”

Spokane Regional Health District is grateful to its partners like Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency, Washington State Department of Health, Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), weather and fire officials, and so many more who join us in urging residents, when air quality is unhealthy, to take specific precautions to protect their health, like staying indoors. This year, however, we want our community to get ahead of the curve in preparing. There are several things people can be doing now to protect themselves and others before the smoke rolls in.

First, it helps to understand what wildfire smoke is and why it can be harmful. It is a mix of gases and fine particles that can make anyone sick. Breathing in smoke can have immediate health effects, including coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, stinging eyes, increased heartrate, headaches and tiredness. Certain populations are at risk for acute respiratory problems from wildfire smoke, such as those with asthma and chronic bronchitis. These individuals should have a plan in place with their medical provider to manage their respiratory and/or heart health. Children are also at increased risk due to their developing respiratory systems and breathing rates, especially when playing.

Based on air quality and health status, choose your summer activities wisely. Pay attention to local air quality reports. Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency offers a current, regional air quality index at While you’re there, sign up for air quality alerts via email or text. The values are updated hourly and put more weight on the most recent air pollution reading.

When air quality enters the ‘Moderate’, or yellow range, if you have asthma, diabetes, lung or heart disease; have had a stroke; or are currently experiencing a respiratory infection, consider limiting your outdoor activities or choose those of lesser effort. This should definitely be your plan if we move into the orange range, or ‘Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups’.

For healthy individuals, the ‘Unhealthy’, or red range, is your signal to limit outdoor activities. In these conditions, everyone should avoid exercising outdoors and at-risk groups should stay indoors. Once we enter the purple and maroon ranges, everyone should stay indoors. You should close your windows and, if available, run the air conditioner on re-circulate. Wait until air quality is better before you go back outside.

For people who have to work outside, drink lots of water and check with your employer about taking more frequent breaks. According to L&I, employers are not required to provide masks and for good reason. As far as masks are concerned, paper "comfort" or "dust" masks are not the answer, and this applies to all individuals, not just outdoor workers. These masks are only designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust, meaning they do not protect lungs from the fine particles in smoke.

Respirator masks labeled N95 or N100 provide some protection, if, and I do emphasize if, they are fitted properly—a challenge when it comes to facial hair. These masks filter out some fine particles, but not the hazardous gases in smoke such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and acrolein. Respirator masks are also not intended for kids or long-term exposure. Our guidance is always to reduce exposure by staying indoors. More tips for a safe wildfire season can be found on our site at

Dr. Bob Lutz

Dr. Lutz is a board-certified family medicine physician who is currently the health officer for Spokane County.

About Spokane Regional Health District

As a leader and partner in public health, Spokane Regional Health District protects, improves and promotes the health and well-being of people through evidence-based practices. The agency is one of 34 local public health agencies serving Washington state's 39 counties. It has approximately 250 employees and serves a population of more than 500,000 in Spokane County. For more information visit The health district’s website offers comprehensive, updated information about Spokane Regional Health District and its triumphs in making Spokane a safer and healthier community. Become a fan of SRHD on Facebook to receive local safety and wellness tips. You can also follow the agency on Twitter @spokanehealth.

Fires sending smoke to Northeast Washington

Spokane and other parts of Eastern Washington appear to have been hit by smoke from fires near the US/Canadian border and possibly the Boylston Fire near Yakima early this morning.  The Boylston fire grew to 70,000 acres overnight and has the potential to generate a lot of smoke over a short period. Air quality has been Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in many parts of eastern Washington but has reached Unhealthy levels in others.  Winds from the west should push some of the smoke out of the area today, but we expect a resurgence of Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups air quality late tonight and Saturday morning.  Residents near the Canadian border in Okanogan county may also see smoky conditions in the cooler hours as smoke drains down the valleys from Canada.

Smoke traveling across eastern Washington into Idaho this morning - GOES-EAST Imagery

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Upriver Beacon Fire in Spokane and Fires in Oregon

The Upriver Beacon Fire near Camp Sekani Park has caused visible smoke and haze around Spokane.  Several crews responded to the fire and recent news reports say firefighters built a line completely around the 115 acre fire, minimizing the chance of more fire growth.  All mandatory evacuations have been lifted but Beacon Hill, Shields Park, and Camp Sekani are closed on Wednesday.  We expect the fire to cause smoke and haze in the area today, with southwesterly winds blowing most of the plume to the northeast of Spokane Valley.  Current air quality around the Spokane area is Moderate to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, which could persist throughout the day.

There are also fires in Oregon that have pushed smoke towards Walla Walla, Clarkston, and other communities in southeastern Washington.  The Substation Fire has grown to nearly 30,000 acres and will continue to grow, but a new fire in Heppner was mostly put out.  Westerly winds are expected to blow smoke from Oregon to the east, mostly missing Washington, but causing some intermittent Moderate to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups smoke intrusions for the next couple days.

PM2.5 in micrograms per cubic meter for Clarkston, Walla Walla, and Spokane

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Light smoke over Seattle courtesy of Kings Landing Fire near Shelton

Moderate air quality was recorded at several Seattle area monitors this morning. It appears that winds are transporting smoke from a 62-acre fire near Shelton. Communities closer to the fires are likely experiencing worse conditions.

Assuming the fire continues to burn, models suggest that winds will transport light smoke over the area until Wednesday, with Moderate air expected tonight and tomorrow morning. Smoke should dissipate during the afternoons, leading to Good air. A wind shift and increase in speed is likely on Wednesday evening through Thursday afternoon, so less smoke impacts are expected during that time.

Please make use of the resources on this blog to safeguard your health during smoke episodes.

Friday, July 13, 2018

2018 wildfire season is at our doorstep. Are you ready?

First, the good news

As of now, there are no major fires or large areas of smoke anywhere in Washington State. Smaller fires have mostly burned out or are under control and yesterday's satellite picture overlaid with air quality data shows near-ideal conditions statewide. Green dots = Good air quality. Some light density smoke was present aloft between Walla Walla and Hermiston, OR.

Now for a few words of warning

The National Weather Service in Spokane released this graphic that says it all:

Thankfully there is little to no moisture associated with this cold front so the chance of lightning is low. So to get through this weekend unscathed, we need to minimize human- caused fires. Fire danger is high due to dryness, so we must be vigilant.

Winds will die down Sunday through Tuesday so smoke from any new fires will pool around the sources.

What can we do?

It goes without saying that we need to do our part to prevent human- caused fires. Plenty of resources on that topic available hereherehere and here. And, as explained in the previous post, prepare yourself for smoke. It's only a matter of time before it shows up.

We will provide smoke forecasts on an as-needed basis, giving y'all as much lead time as we can. Keep watching this space.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

6/26/2018 Prepare for Fire Season

It's too soon to know if the coming wildfire season will blanket the state in smoke like we experienced last summer but there are actions you can take now to be ready just in case: