Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Favorable Wildfire Smoke Outlook; Prescribed Fire Season Starting!

Recent rainfall and cooler temperatures limit smoke production on active wildfires

It certainly appears that wildfire season in Washington is winding down! A series of two cold fronts swept across the state on Monday and Tuesday, with the latter bringing cooler temperatures and rainfall to most areas of the state. As the westerly winds picked up ahead of the cold front on Tuesday, some individuals reported smelling smoke in the Seattle/Everett/Mt. Vernon corridor. This was likely a result of the still-smoldering fires in the Olympic Mountains, but air quality remained Good at all locations! 

Speaking of the fires in the Olympics, the Delabarre Fire has burned 3,658 acres as of September 19th, narrowly edging out the 2018 Maple Fire (3,273 acres) and the 2015 Paradise Fire (2,791 acres) to become the largest fire in the Olympic Mountains since the Great Forks Fire of 1951. Below is a map of all fire perimeters in the Olympic Mountains from 1951-2023, with the Delabarre Fire highlighted. Fortunately, the recent rainfall and cooler temperatures should limit any further growth of the incidents on the Olympic Peninsula. 

The other major smoke producer in Washington over the past month has been the Airplane Lake Fire, which has consistently funneled smoke into the Leavenworth/Wenatchee Valley. This fire also saw rain yesterday, though less than the Olympics. It is possible that with warmer weather on Thursday and Friday the Airplane Lake Fire may perk up a bit, but winds will be out of the east, providing the aforementioned areas with relief from the smoke. Some elevated smoke will likely be transported toward the Puget Sound, but I do not expect enough burning activity to produce any impacts above occasional MODERATE readings. 

Looking ahead to the weekend and early next week, I expect our first widespread heavy rain event to impact all areas along and west of the Cascades beginning Saturday and continuing through the first several days of next week. A true Washington Autumn classic, winds will be gusty and several periods of rain are expected. Below is the total precipitation forecast from NOAA's Weather Prediction Center through Wednesday morning, and you best believe this will tamp out any wildfire smoke concerns for the foreseeable future! Currently, the heaviest rainfall is expected on Monday and Tuesday. 

As wildfire season winds down, prescribed fire season picks up. Prescribed fires also produce smoke concerns, but the smoke is much shorter lived and burns are regulated to minimize air quality impacts across the state. The goal of prescribed fires is to promote a healthier, more wildfire resistant landscape, and are a very important tool in reducing wildfire danger to communities across Washington. If you live near US Forest Service or Washington DNR managed lands, follow your local USFS or DNR offices on social media to stay up to date on any planned burns in your area! 


  1. Thank you for the constant updates and articles. This blog is my primary resource when I start to see smog or smell smoke in the air.

    1. Keep in mind that residential wood-smoke from home-heating will be the biggest source of smoke in most areas, now that cooler weather has set in. Those smoke impacts typically peak at night and early mornings.


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