Wildfires in 2015 burned more acres in Washington State than the last 5 years combined, according to data from the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. Abnormally warm temperatures, a snow drought last winter, early snow melt this spring and a mostly dry summer were among the reasons.
Year Acres burned by Washington wildfires 2010 56,820 2011 17,480 2012 259,526 2013 152,603 2014 386,972 2015 1,005,423 (as of September 30th)In addition to the tragic loss of lives and property, many people were forced to breathe heavily polluted air for several days. Eastern Washingtonians were exposed to an average of about 11 days where air quality was either Unhealthy or worse, compared to an average of about 7 days in recent years with bad wildfires.
As can be expected, air quality varied widely from place to place. Omak for instance saw air quality degrade much more than it did in past years, while Wenatchee did not see air that was as bad as they did in 2012. Not all smoke plumes are measured by the network of air quality monitoring sites. Several temporary monitors placed in smoke impacted communities at different times recorded poor air quality, but their data have not been considered in the above analysis.
Satellite picture on 23 August 2015 shows widespread smoke in the Pacific NW. Measured air quality conditions are also indicated in colored dotsWhile the human body can recover from short term exposure to wildfire smoke, it is well known that smoke inhalation causes breathing difficulties among people with prior respiratory or cardiovascular diseases. Elderly people, pregnant women, infants and children can be susceptible at lower pollution levels. Extreme smoke levels can trigger heart attacks or strokes, even among healthy people.As we transition from wildfire season to home heating season, the public is encouraged to observe any burn bans that might be imposed in case of stagnant air and take necessary precautions to limit exposure to impaired air. If you are a wood burner, make sure you only burn dry, seasoned firewood in small, hot fires. A low-polluting woodstove or pellet stove would make an excellent Christmas gift. Your family and neighbors will thank you for it.