Thursday, August 31, 2023

Rain to the rescue: Smoke in Vancouver and the Weekend Outlook

Smoke from the Camp Creek Fire is funneling into the Vancouver area this morning. Air quality monitors in Vancouver observed elevated concentrations of PM2.5 starting around 3am. Air quality should improve today with the rain, but the pattern may repeat itself tomorrow morning. The Southwest Clean Air Agency has issued an Air Pollution Advisory for Clark County today through tomorrow afternoon due to intermittent unhealthy smoke impacts.

As for the upcoming weekend, recent rain has moderated smoke production from local fires, and more rain is coming thanks to a new frontal system. Colder temperatures and more moisture bode well for decreasing fire potential from any new lightning starts. Check out the forecasted total precipitation for the region through Sunday evening:

Forecasted winds from the north Friday and into Saturday will transport Canadian smoke down into Okanogan Valley. The area may observe intermittent moderate air quality. Smoke from the Airplane Lake Fire is also causing moderate to unhealthy air quality in the Lake Wenatchee area, which may continue through the weekend before more rain arrives on Sunday. Other than that, minimal smoke impacts are expected throughout the state this weekend. For areas close to fires, check out the smoke outlooks tab for updates. Enjoy the (mostly) good air quality!

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Regional haze dispersing, but several fires still causing local smoke impacts

Satellite imagery shows the remnant wildfire smoke haze dispersing this morning, but some fires are still producing visible smoke plumes.  We also expect easterly winds over the next few days and a Red Flag Warning is in effect for the West Cascade slopes of Lewis, Pierce, and King county due to dry and windy conditions.  With the expected wind shift, a moderate amount of BC smoke is expected to drift down into the Puget Sound region this weekend.  No Air Quality Alerts are planned at this time, but Moderate to USG smoke will likely impact northern counties for a couple days.

Residents in Okanogan have been living with intermittent smoke from nearby BC fires for quite some time, and that will continue.  The fires in British Columbia continue to dwarf what is going on in our state.  However, a low pressure system is expected to cause rain showers across the Pacific Northwest on Tuesday, and this should help limit temperatures and smoke production across the region.  BC officials also report that there has been good progress on containing fires and some evacuees are being allowed to return home.

The Airplane Lake fire (2,300 acres) in the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area of Chelan County has been pushing smoke into the Wenatchee region.  However, winds are shifting and Snohomish County communities like Darrington and Gold Bar will probably smell smoke over the next couple days. There are trail closures in the area around the fire.

The Sourdough fire (6,000 acres) in Whatcom County near Ross Lake is partially contained and firefighters report that opening SR-20 to thru traffic was a success.  However, sensors around the Diablo Lake region are showing intermittent smoky conditions and trail closures are still in effect.

The Oregon fire in Spokane County is partially contained and firefighters continue to make great progress.  Very little smoke is being generated at this time.

See the Health Information Tab on this blog for more information about how you can protect yourself from wildfire smoke.  See the Local Smoke Outlooks for detailed forecasts in your area.  Check WatchDuty for frequently updated information on local fires.

Smoke from the Airplane Lake Fire on August 22, 2023; courtesy of Inciweb

*** Update***

The Lookout Fire in Oregon is pushing smoke high into the atmosphere and being transported to the north, contributing to the haze over the region.  Fire crews have progressed with firing operations designed to strengthen control lines, and fire growth has been considerable, contributing to the large smoke production.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Statewide smoke update: clearing in Western WA today, smoke impacts in Central and Eastern WA continue this week

Over the weekend, nearly every part of the state experienced smoke impacts, with many air quality monitors observing unhealthy or worse conditions. Sunday's satellite image shows the swath of smoke across the state:

20 Aug 2023 19:01Z - NOAA/NESDIS/STAR GOES-West

Easterly winds plus smoke from both local and Canadian fires led to the poor air quality we observed over the weekend. Two fires in the Spokane area (Gray Fire and Oregon Road Fire) led to hazardous air quality in Spokane.


Western WA

We're already seeing improvements in western Washington with the arrival of westerly onshore winds. The smoke will likely linger through today but skies should be clear by tomorrow morning. Air Quality Alerts are in place through midnight tonight for the following counties: Island, King, Pierce, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, Whatcom. An Air Quality Alert is in effect until 5pm today for Clallam County.

Central and Eastern WA

Air quality will also slightly improve today in Central and Eastern Washington with southeast winds, although there is uncertainty in how much relief Central Washington will experience. Forecasted southwesterly winds tonight and tomorrow will increase smoke in the region. Air Quality Alerts comprise all Central and Eastern WA counties, and are extended through noon on Wednesday. 

Expect significant clearing on Wednesday.  Unfortunately, forecasted northerly winds could bring Canadian smoke to Northern Washington on Thursday and Friday. We'll update the blog as necessary.


We observed interesting smoke dynamics in the atmosphere on Saturday as the smoke was transported higher up in the atmosphere but then mixed down to the surface. Ecology's air quality sensor at the Mt. Rainier visitor center (elevation 5400') observed elevated PM2.5 concentrations 3 hours before the closest purple air sensor at Longmire (elevation 2700') and 8 hours before the purple air sensor in Ashford (elevation 1700').

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Spokane County - State of Emergency

Spokane County is under a State of Emergency due to two large fires that have each burned approximately 10,000 acres: the Oregon Road Fire near Elk and the Gray Fire in Medical Lake.  Many homes and structures have been lost and the fires are still very active.  Spokane Emergency Management has information on evacuations and other important notices.  Evacuation Shelters are available at Riverside High School and Spokane Falls Community College.

Current air quality is very unhealthy to hazardous due to both local and regional fires.  Continued fire activity and region-wide smoke will continue to cause poor air quality until at least Monday.  However, the remnants of Hurricane Hilary will likely push welcome moisture into the region late Monday and Tuesday, which will help clear the smoke and hopefully help with fire suppression.  

When air quality is very unhealthy or worse, everyone should reduce exposure. Stay inside and filter indoor air to keep it cleaner. Go elsewhere for cleaner air, if needed. See the Health Information Tab on this blog for more information about how you can protect yourself from wildfire smoke.  See the Local Smoke Outlooks for detailed forecasts in your area. 

Fires around Spokane with recent satellite hot-spot detects in orange (8/19/2023 - Source: WatchDuty)

Friday, August 18, 2023

Wildfire smoke impacts in Western Washington this weekend

Recently a westerly wind pattern has been blowing wildfire smoke to the east and keeping it out of Western Washington.  However, winds will shift overnight tonight to easterly – funneling smoke from fires in the Cascades and southern British Columbia into the Puget Sound region.  All of Western Washington may be impacted – with the possible exception of the Olympics/coast.

Forecasted Unhealthy air quality for 5am Sunday

The air quality index is expected to reach Moderate or Unhealthy For Sensitive Groups on Saturday, increasing throughout the day.  Northern counties will be affected first as smoke travels southward.  Continued smoke movement on Sunday could lead to Unhealthy or worse air quality.  Light westerly winds on Monday and stronger westerly winds on Tuesday should help clear out the smoke.

An Air Quality Alert is being issued for the following Western WA counties, beginning Saturday at 9am and continuing through Monday at noon: Clallam, Clark, Cowlitz, Island, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Lewis, Mason, Pierce, San Juan, Skagit, Skamania, Snohomish, Thurston, Wahkiakum, and Whatcom. 

While air quality in Central and Eastern Washington has improved today, northerly winds this afternoon will lead to declining air quality conditions that will continue through the weekend. Air quality alerts remain in place until Monday morning.

Limit your exposure by staying indoors, keeping your windows closed, and using air purifiers.  Track the current air quality on the smoke map at the top of this site.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Smoke impacts in Central and Eastern WA through the weekend

Smoke from local and Canadian fires is impacting air quality in Central and Eastern Washington, as seen on this morning's satellite image:

GOES-West 17Aug 2023 15:31Z

Conditions will improve somewhat tomorrow as westerly winds push the smoke away, but relief will be short-lived as the winds shift to bring smoke back into the region Saturday evening. It's likely to be smoky in most of Central and Eastern Washington through the weekend, ranging from Moderate to Unhealthy conditions. 

There is an active Air Quality Alert for Central and Eastern Washington counties that extends through the weekend until Monday morning.

Critical fire weather continues across the state in this hot and dry weather. Active fire detections are shown in the map below.

We're also keeping an eye on the forecast for western Washington this weekend and will update the blog as needed. Easterly flow could transport smoke to the area, but as of now it's uncertain how much smoke will be transported.

As always, check out the smoke forecast and current air quality conditions in the map at the top of this page, and review DOH's tips for finding cleaner indoor air

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

It’s that time of year again to find cleaner indoor air

Wildfire smoke is increasing in our state, which means we need to start taking steps to reduce our exposure and protect ourselves. Breathing in wildfire smoke can cause health problems, even if you are healthy.

  • Limit duration and intensity of outside physical activity. 
  • Stay inside with cleaner indoor air: 
    • Close windows and doors, unless it is too hot to maintain safe temperatures. 
    • Don’t add to indoor air pollution by smoking cigarettes or burning candles inside. 
    • Filter indoor air through an HVAC system, HEPA portable air cleaner, or a DIY box fan filter. 
  • Set air conditioners to re-circulate. 
  • Seek clean air elsewhere if it is not possible to keep the air in your home clean or cool. 
  • If you must be outside, wear a properly fitted, NIOSH-approved particulate respirator, such as an N95 mask. 

For more information see the Health Information Tab or visit WA DOH’s Smoke from Fires webpage

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Critical Fire Weather and Active Fires in North Cascades Increase Smoke Production this Week

Westside Smoke Relief Tomorrow, Eastside Impacts Increase

Unfortunately, our hot and dry weather has led to increased activity on several fires in the Northern Cascades. Remote weather stations near the Sourdough Fire topped out at 100 F yesterday afternoon and the heat is only expected to increase today. Critical fire weather will continue for the next few days. Hot and dry conditions will persist in the interior through Friday, while strong westerly winds will impact the Cascades this afternoon and all of Eastern Washington on Thursday. With all these threats, resources are spread thin, so practice fire safety to keep the workload on our firefighting teams as low as possible!

Currently most smoke in Washington is coming from the Sourdough Fire and the Dome Peak Fire, which is located in mountainous terrain north of Glacier Peak. Dome Peak was ignited in the same lightning storm as Sourdough and remained quiet until the hot weather this week allowed it to start flaming. There is also some smoke entering the state from fires in southern British Columbia and the Idaho panhandle. An Air Quality Alert is being issued for Chelan and Okanogan counties that will extend through Friday.

The Sourdough Fire continues to burn in heavy timber along State Route 20 with significant growth potential forecasted for the rest of the week. The Dome Peak Fire northeast of Glacier Peak recently sparked up and is showing no signs of calming down through the rest of the week. Both fires are located near the Cascade Crest, so the wind direction will be very important in determining which side of the mountains see the most smoke.

Today will be the last day of significant smoke impacts for most of Western Washington. Later today, onshore flow will resume which will push most smoke east of the Cascade crest. This will cause smoke to flow down mountain valleys on the Eastern Slopes such as the Methow and down Lake Chelan. The Methow Valley will be an area of concern for the rest of the week with up to Unhealthy air quality through Friday. Areas near existing fires like Newhalem and Stehekin will see Very Unhealthy to Hazardous conditions, especially at night, when smoke gets trapped near the surface. Chelan could see up to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups for the rest of the week as well, while Moderate impacts are expected for Waterville, Darrington, and Concrete. Below is a depiction of smoke transport for the next 24-72 hrs.

Another concern is northerly winds through the Okanogan Valley channeling smoke from British Columbia towards the Columbia Basin overnight tonight and tomorrow. Similarly, smoke from the Ridge Creek fire in Idaho may be channeled west towards Spokane. These events will result in Moderate air quality for the Omak and Spokane areas through Wednesday, though impacts should subside for Thursday and Friday.

With mid and upper-level winds out of the west for the remainder of the week, elevated smoke will be visible across most of eastern Washington. As always, critical fire weather greatly increases the likelihood of new fires popping up statewide. If any new fires do crop up, smoke will be pushed east, so Eastern Washington will be primarily impacted. 

Jared McGlothlin
Wildfire Meteorology
Washington Department of Natural Resources

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Sourdough Fire Rises After Rainfall; Smoke Impacts Focused on Westside through Tuesday

 A critical week of fire weather lies ahead 

After widespread wetting rains fell across Washington early last week, it was discouraging to see the Sourdough Fire start producing smoke again yesterday. Last Monday was a great reminder that the damp greyness of Autumn is on the horizon, but fire season is still upon us and will be for the better part of the next month and a half. A mid-August heatwave begins today across the Pacific Northwest, with very hot and dry conditions expected through the workweek. The Northwest Coordination Center raised their preparedness level to 4 (out of 5) this weekend, indicating that an increase in fire starts is likely and that firefighting resources are starting to be stretched a bit too thin. It is crucial that we all work together to limit any new sparks this week! 

Fire danger will evolve in two stages this week: First, areas west of the Cascades will see a peak in fire danger Sunday-Wednesday morning. After Wednesday, onshore flow will return west of the Cascades and critical fire danger will shift east of the Cascades. This also mirrors smoke impacts for the week. Red Flag Warnings are flying for the west slopes of the Cascades through at least Monday evening. 

As of Sunday morning, the only fire-of-concern from a smoke perspective in Washington is the Sourdough Fire burning above Diablo Lake in the North Cascades. 

Prevailing winds through Tuesday evening will be out of the northeast across the Cascades and out of the north through the Puget Lowlands. The poorest air quality will be in the morning hours in the immediate vicinity of the fire and southeastward through the Skagit Valley. AQI values each morning will range from Very Unhealthy near the fire in Newhalem to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Marblemount to Moderate in Concrete. 

Ceilometer data from Puget Sound Clean Air shows that the smoke exiting the Skagit Valley and spreading to the east and south in the Puget Lowlands is primarily above 3,000 feet, which will limit air quality concerns to Moderate in the I-5 corridor north of Seattle, though smoke will likely be visible in Whatcom, Skagit, and Snohomish counties.

During the afternoon hours when the fire is producing the most smoke, mid-level winds will transport elevated smoke southwestward toward Lake Chelan and the Methow Valley. Through Tuesday evening, the most significant impacts east of the fire will be for Stehekin, where AQ is likely to reach Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. Two fires burning just north of the Canadian border will transport primarily elevated smoke across far NE Okanogan County and the Methow Valley through the middle of the week. 

The model image below shows total smoke transport through Sunday evening, with similar conditions expected through Tuesday evening. 

Unfortunately, with critical fire expected west of the Cascades through the midweek period, new fire starts are also likely. Smoke from any new fires will generally be transported southward and westward across western Washington. By Wednesday morning, westerly winds will return across Washington and smoke concerns will shift to eastern Washington. The Methow Valley will begin to see more significant smoke impacts from the Sourdough Fire by Tuesday night, with westerly winds continuing into the late-week period. There will be an update to the Smoke Blog on Tuesday to provide more details and decipher impacts from any new fire starts! 

Matthew Dehr
Wildfire Meteorologist
Washington DNR 

Monday, August 7, 2023

Monday Update: Smoke impacts in Central and Eastern WA; cleaner air expected mid-week

The Sourdough Fire in the North Cascades has grown to 1,400 acres and continues to impact air quality closest to the fire as well as in Chelan and Okanogan Counties. An Air Resource Advisor (ARA) has been assigned to the fire--please see the local Smoke Outlooks for their specific forecasts.

Over the weekend and into this morning, air monitoring sites in Chelan and Okanogan Counties observed smoke impacts corresponding to moderate and unhealthy for sensitive groups air quality levels. 

Air quality will continue to improve today and tomorrow as smoke production from the Sourdough Fire continues to decrease. Potential rain will also help to dampen any fire growth. Areas closest to the fire (Ross and Diablo Lakes) will continue to observe smoke impacts corresponding to moderate to unhealthy for sensitive groups air quality levels. In the Methow Valley, moderate air quality levels are expected to continue, with the potential for air quality to intermittently reach unhealthy for sensitive groups tonight and tomorrow night. Westerly winds will keep smoke away from the western slopes of the cascades. 

As for the rest of the state, moderate smoke impacts across Eastern Washington from fires in Idaho, Montana, and Canada will continue through tomorrow. Smaller local fires (such as the Agency Butte Fire east of Nespelem in Okanogan County) could contribute to deteriorating air quality conditions closest to the fires, but smoke production will be mitigated by today's rain. Shifting winds on Wednesday will lead to improvements and cleaner air as westerly winds push smoke out of the region.

A reminder to keep an eye on the 5-day smoke forecast and current air quality conditions at the map at the top of this page, and we'll update the blog as needed.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Wildfire Smoke Impacts Expected across Washington through this Weekend

Local fires will be the primary source of surface smoke

Upper level smoke from fires in Idaho, Montana, and Canada will be transported toward Washington, as well

The Eagle Bluff Fire burning near the Canadian border in the Okanogan Valley has been consistently producing smoke since its ignition last weekend, but the Sourdough Fire burning above Diablo Lake has increased smoke production remarkably in the past 24 hours. Below you can see the location and current smoke plumes of those fires, as of Thursday, 3 August. Additionally, the Margarita Fire, located on the Pacific Coast near Moclips, produced smoke impacts for the south Puget Sound yesterday and may continue to smolder through Friday. Minor smoke impacts associated with that fire are likely to be contained near the coast.

The Sourdough Fire, in particular, will produce the most substantial smoke impacts over the next 24-48 hours in Washington. Winds will be out of the west during the day, blowing smoke toward the Okanogan Highlands and the Methow Valley, while at night, winds will reverse and blow smoke easterly into the Skagit River Valley toward Marblemount and Rockport. AQI values in the Orange/Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups range are possible at these locations, with further reduction in AQI possible near Diablo Lake. 

WSDOT is asking the public to not stop along SR-20 to take photos of the fire.

Fortunately, cooler weather and precipitation chances are in the forecast for this weekend. The impact of smoke from the Eagle Bluff Fire has already been dramatically reduced by fire suppression efforts, and the upcoming weather will tamp down smoke production from the Sourdough Fire. Along with the precipitation, however, is a shift in the upper level winds that will draw elevated smoke from Idaho, Montana, and Canada toward Washington.  Below you can see the wind aloft over Washington expected for this weekend. 

The primary impact from the out-of-state smoke will be slight reductions in air quality across much of eastern Washington through the weekend, particularly overnight and through the morning hours. I do not anticipate widespread AQI in the Orange/Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups range, but Yellow/Moderate AQI will likely continue for areas such as Spokane, Colville, and the Tri-Cities. Widespread cloud cover this weekend across Washington will hide the dingy grey skies usually associated with wildfire smoke, so be sure to check the Washington Department of Ecology's Smoke & Fire page for the air quality in your area: Smoke & Fire Air Quality

Matthew Dehr

Wildfire Meteorologist

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

West Hallett Fire Causing Smoke Impacts in Spokane

The West Hallett Fire burning southwest of Spokane is causing moderate smoke impacts in the Spokane area. The 150 acre fire started yesterday afternoon and is burning in timber, brush, and grass. Evacuations are in effect. 

Moderate air quality conditions are expected to continue throughout the day in the Spokane area. Please see the Health Information tab to learn how you can protect yourself from wildfire smoke. 

                                    Aircraft drop water on the West Hallett Fire near Spokane. Source: Spokesman-Review