Thursday, July 11, 2024

Weekend Smoke Outlook & DNR Burn Ban

An Air Quality Alert issued on July 9 remains in effect across Chelan County and the Methow Valley due to smoke from the Pioneer Fire. Meanwhile, a Red Flag Warning is still in place across the Kittitas Valley until 8pm today due to strong winds and low relative humidity in that area.

Onshore westerly flow has improved air quality across most of the state today and lowered temperatures from the peak of the heat wave. But the Pioneer Fire near Lake Chelan is likely to maintain periods of active fire behavior each afternoon-evening through the weekend due to dry and breezy weather with still above normal temperatures. Winds out of the west and northwest will generally transport smoke eastward and southeastward with continued air quality impacts possible across communities like Chelan, Methow, and Brewster where the air quality alert remains in place. You can find smoke outlooks related to the Pioneer Fire updated on a daily basis at this link.There are also fires burning further south in Oregon and California. Smoke from these fires should remain away from Washington through the weekend but will need to be watched long-term for potential to creep northwards into the state. If no new large fires emerge this weekend, the bottom line is that continued air quality impacts are possible near the Pioneer Fire but most other areas of the state should maintain good-moderate air quality.

DNR Issues Statewide Burn Ban

Hot and dry conditions have significantly increased fire danger across the state. On July 10, the Department of Natural Resources implemented a burn ban across all forest lands in Washington that are under DNR fire protection status. The order bans all outdoor burning, including campfires, through September 30. See this map for current fire danger and burn ban status.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Air Quality Alert Issued for Chelan County and Methow Valley

An Air Quality Alert has been issued for all of Chelan county plus the Methow Valley down to Brewster in Okanogan county on Tuesday 7/9/2024 and until further notice, due to expected smoke from the Pioneer fire and other regional wildfires. Particulate matter (PM2.5) may reach Unhealthy and Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups levels.

Health Impacts and Recommended Actions: When air quality is Unhealthy, everyone should reduce exposure. Limit time outside, avoid strenuous activity, and follow tips for cleaner indoor air. When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, sensitive groups should take steps to reduce exposure. Limit time outside, avoid strenuous outdoor activity, and follow tips for cleaner indoor air. Everyone should watch for symptoms as a sign to reduce exposure.

Agricultural and outdoor burning restrictions are in effect.

Take extra care when it’s hot and smoky at the same time.

  •  As with wildfire smoke exposures, heat illness symptoms range from mild to severe--including muscle cramps, headaches, dizziness, thirst, nausea, confusion, high body temperatures and more. Heat stroke can be deadly. Know the signs of heat illness that require immediate medical attention.
  • When outdoor heat and smoke overlap, stay safe by spending time in spaces with both indoor cooling and air filtration. To cool spaces with no A/C, pull shades to block daytime heat. Use portable air cleaners or DIY box fan filters to help cool and clean air. Open windows when it’s cooler outside than inside or when smoke levels improve.
  • Pay attention to how you are feeling and adjust. Stay hydrated and limit activity until heat and smoke improve. Cool off by taking a cool bath or shower, put your feet in cool water, or apply wet rags to your neck or body.
  • To find Cooling Centers in Washington: Dial 2-1-1 during business hours, or visit wa211.org any time for lists of Extreme Weather Shelters and Cooling Centers. If no Cooling Centers near you are listed on Washington 2-1-1, contact your city or county health department for additional options.
  • Check National Weather Service HeatRisk for heat forecasts. See “How to use the HeatRisk Tool and Air Quality Index" for steps to take at increasing risk levels.



Monday, July 8, 2024

Critical fire weather this week

Over the weekend, hot and dry weather contributed to increased smoke production from the Pioneer Fire, as seen from this morning's webcam on Wapato Point:


Air quality monitors in Chelan, Manson, and Stehekin recorded intermittent smoke impacts over the weekend, ranging from occasional good air quality to periods of unhealthy air quality. With the continuing hot and dry conditions, this pattern of increased smoke production from the Pioneer Fire and associated smoke impacts in the area (ranging from moderate to unhealthy air quality) will continue through at least the next few days.

NWS has issued a Red Flag Warning through Tuesday night across portions of the Cascades, and a Fire Weather Watch Wednesday across North Central Washington. While the weather will cool slightly on Wednesday, forecasted high winds and dry conditions can both increase smoke production from current fires and cause any ignited fires to spread quickly. Be sure to recreate safely and heed all fire and burn restrictions.

The hot weather is also conducive for ozone (smog) formation today and tomorrow across the state. The moderate air quality observed in areas of Western WA this morning should improve over the next couple of days with a change to onshore flow on Wednesday and (somewhat) cooler temperatures.


Friday, July 5, 2024

Wildfire smoke hits Central Washington

We’re seeing significant air quality impacts from wildfires in Central Washington on Friday.

There are two new wildfires burning in the region - Balsam Root in North Wenatchee and Thorp Road near Moxee, both of which have prompted evacuations.

Meanwhile, high pressure and calm winds near Lake Chelan have meant that smoke from the Pioneer Fire is accumulating near the surface and sending air quality readings into the unhealthy zone.

With a long stretch of near-record temperatures on tap for this weekend and next week, fire danger is expected to continue to be high. The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning for Friday afternoon and evening for central Washington. A Fire Weather Watch is also in place for the west slope of the Cascades through the weekend.

Meanwhile, on the west side of the state, particulate pollution from fireworks started off much of the Puget Sound region with a lingering haze. That’s beginning to dissipate at midday Friday. 

On Friday afternoon, the National Weather Service also issued a Red Flag Warning for the Cascades (above 1500 feet) from Saturday through Tuesday. Conditions are hot, dry, and unstable, meaning new fires could easily start and spread. If you are in this area, please take extra care to avoid any activities that might spark a wildfire.

Follow local emergency management agencies for evacuation information, and be prepared if you're traveling in these regions in the coming days:

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Happy Fourth of July – and please celebrate responsibly

Every summer, the Fourth of July brings air quality concerns. Smoke from fireworks is composed of particle pollution and toxic compounds, and air quality monitoring sites in Washington tend to register above-average values on the Air Quality Index (AQI) during and following Independence Day celebrations. These elevated AQI values generally persist into the early morning hours of July 5 but can linger longer if atmospheric conditions trap the pollution near the surface. The air pollution generated by these events impacts wildlife, the environment, and people – especially those in sensitive groups.

So, many communities in Washington can expect air quality to diminish the night of the 4th into the morning of the 5th, especially in urban areas with lots of fireworks. The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency has already set their AQI forecast to “moderate” for this time.

Across the state, fireworks are prohibited in most urban areas. This includes Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Yakima, Spokane, and Bellingham. If you’re not sure what’s allowed where you live, contact your local fire department. As they like to say at the Department of Natural Resources: don’t set the state on fire. 

National Weather Service (NWS) forecast

Today (July 3), there is a small chance of thunderstorms and lightning in northeast Washington and northern Idaho. This means new fires could start in that region. Starting Thursday (July 4), conditions will be dry and temperatures hot throughout the state. Afternoon highs will be 10-15 degrees above normal and an excessive heat warning has been issued for central and eastern Washington. See the graphic below from the National Weather Service (Spokane) for more details. 

This forecast means an elevated risk of wildfires over the weekend. Fully extinguish campfires, dispose of cigarettes in ashtrays, avoid dragging trailer chains, and otherwise be careful doing anything that could create heat or sparks. 

NWS Caption: "Our first significant heat wave of the season will develop this weekend and persist well into next week. The early to middle part of next week has the potential to threaten records with moderate to major values of Heat Risk. Hot and dry weather will also lead to increasing fire danger as our landscape becomes increasingly dry."


Fireworks and wildfires

Humans are responsible for starting at least 85% of all wildfires. And we start more wildfires on July 4 than on any other day of the year. Between 1992 and 2015, more than 7,000 wildfires were sparked nationwide on this date alone. Given the state’s current drought conditions, we encourage everyone to consider attending a public fireworks display rather than lighting fireworks at home, where injuries and accidental fires are more likely to occur. 

Wildfire season is here

Wildfires have already begun across Washington. A few communities have seen evacuations and poor air quality. As we move deeper into this year’s wildfire season, please ensure you know how to protect yourself and those around you. This means:

Monday, June 17, 2024

WA wildfire update: Pioneer Fire continues to impact Lake Chelan

The Pioneer Fire continues to burn in the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness near the north shore of Lake Chelan. Unfortunately, this fire will likely be a long term event; people in the area should expect intermittent air quality impacts as the fire spreads. The map at the top of this page now shows a box around the fire location--this box indicates that there is now a daily smoke outlook issued by an Air Resource Advisor for the Pioneer Fire. Clicking on the link in the box will take you to the smoke outlook, or it's accessible by clicking on the Local Smoke Outlooks tab on the blog.

Over the weekend high winds led to the fire doubling in size as well as variable smoke impacts in the area. The Chelan area saw mostly moderate smoke impacts, but areas east of Lake Chelan in the Methow observed unhealthy and worse air quality impacts on the evening of June 15:
























Winds pushing smoke to the southeast today will cause moderate air quality impacts in Chelan and Manson. Breezier winds tomorrow and warming temperatures will increase fire growth and lead to air quality index values ranging from moderate to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.

Across the region, the Beam Road Fire east of Zillah is 42% contained; evacuations have been reduced and air quality impacts have been minimal. After causing moderate smoke impacts in the Lewiston-Clarkston area last Friday, the Nisqually John Fire is now 100% contained.

As always, keep an eye on air quality conditions and the smoke forecast, and we'll update the smokeblog as needed. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Active wildfires in Central WA

Warm weather, dry conditions, and breezy winds increase fire danger. We've observed these conditions recently across the state and a few wildfires have popped up in Central Washington (note that these wildfires were not ignited by lightning). A few recently ignited fires of note: 

The Pioneer Fire burning on the north shore of Lake Chelan is causing intermittent smoke impacts in the Chelan area and south of Twisp, with Air Quality Index values reaching moderate and unhealthy for sensitive groups. The fire has grown to 672 acres (6/13 update: 1468 acres; Chelan County evacuation information) and is currently 0% contained. The intermittent smoke impacts will likely continue through at least this week. A cold front arriving on Friday will bring breezy southwesterly winds, cooler temperatures, and a slight chance of precipitation over the weekend. The cooler temperatures and slight chance of rain should dampen any fire growth.


Pioneer Fire from the air. Source: WA DNR

The Finley warehouse fire continues to burn; near-real time air quality conditions from recently installed sensors in the area can be seen at the map at the top of this page.

A few other fires (such as the Marsh Fire outside of Yakima and the Palisades Road Fire west of Quincy) no longer have active evacuations and air quality impacts have been minimal.

Warm and breezy weather conditions are favorable for fire growth and spread; be sure to recreate responsibly and keep an eye on conditions.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Smoke Ready Week and 2024 Wildfire Outlook

Smoke Ready Week, June 10-14

Since wildfire season will be here soon, now is the perfect time to ensure you and those around you are prepared. Getting #SmokeReady—the focus of this week—means identifying personal health concerns, learning ways to protect your indoor air, and knowing where to find up-to-date information about wildfire smoke.

Over the course of #SmokeReadyWeek, WA Smoke Blog partners will be posting on social media in line with daily themes:

  • Monday, June 10: Learn about smoke
  • Tuesday, June 11: Stay informed about smoke
  • Wednesday, June 12: Smoke and your health
  • Thursday, June 13: Minimize exposure to smoke
  • Friday, June 14: Prevent smoke

Luckily, if you’re reading this, you already know about the WA Smoke Blog: the state’s leading public resource for wildfire smoke information. This site features a map with Air Quality Index (AQI) values from monitors and sensors that measure PM2.5 across the region. In addition to current air quality conditions, the map also shows a smoke forecast for the next five days. When using this tool, please remember to check the forecast regularly, as conditions can change very quickly.

Below the map, there are tabs for the latest smoke information, local smoke outlooks, and external resources. Here, you can find additional sources on monitoring, forecasting, and fires, and details about the health impacts of wildfire smoke. The Department of Health’s wildfire smoke page is an excellent place to go if you have any questions or concerns about keeping yourself safe this summer.

In the days and weeks to come, be sure to familiarize yourself with the resources listed here on the WA Smoke Blog. Preparing early reduces the stress of wildfire season, so please share this information to help others get #SmokeReady!

2024 Wildfire & Smoke Outlook

Wildfire smoke is a risk every year, but the extent to which it affects Washington residents depends on the severity of fire season throughout the Pacific Northwest. The brief overview for the season is that we are expecting a quick start to wildfire season and slightly more active season than normal across Washington and British Columbia. In contrast, the season could be less active than normal across Oregon and California, especially in the first half. With the enhanced local wildfire risk, smoke impacts are possible too, but small-scale details cannot be known in advance and will instead be updated in future blog posts. Continue reading for a more detailed discussion of the factors at play heading into fire season.

Drought & Precipitation: Some Areas of Improvement, Other Areas of Concern

A contributing element to wildfire season is the level of drought across the region. Thinking back to last fall, much of the PNW was experiencing some level of drought. Here in Washington, the central and northern Cascades were particularly impacted, experiencing extreme drought at that time.

Drought map of the western U.S. in late September 2023. Courtesy droughtmonitor.unl.edu.

Since then, normal to above normal precipitation has alleviated drought in some areas, especially in Oregon where drought has essentially been eliminated completely heading into this summer. The situation in Washington is less optimal with most parts of the state remaining drier than normal over the last 5 months, especially the central/northern Cascades and Blue Mountains where precipitation has only been 50-70% of normal since January 1. As a result, these areas maintain moderate drought status heading into the summer. It’s worth noting that abnormal dryness also extends across the border into much of British Columbia.

Percent of average precipitation for the western U.S., January 1 to June 4, 2024. Courtesy the Western Regional Climate Center (WRCC).

Drought map of the western U.S. in early June 2024. Courtesy droughtmonitor.unl.edu.

Snowpack

Snowpack is another important factor to consider when determining how early or late in the season that mid-high elevation forests will be available for burning. Above average snowpack will take longer to melt out and can often delay fire concerns until later in the season. With that in mind, there is a relatively lower than normal risk of fire during at least the first half of the season across the mountains of Oregon and California because of their near to above normal snowpack. In Washington however,  snowpack is generally poor heading into summer, especially across the central and northern Cascades where snow water equivalent (SWE) values are generally only 35-80%. As a result, many of Washington’s mid-high elevation forests will be snow-free at some point in June and could make fuels available to burn sooner than normal, especially if dry and warm weather persists for extended periods of time. Communities on the east slopes of the Cascades are a particular concern for this season because precipitation deficits are most significant in these areas. They have not received much of the beneficial precipitation that fell across much of Western Washington in recent weeks.

Snow water equivalent percentage across various watershed sub-basins in WA & OR on June 4, 2024. Courtesy the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Temperature Outlook


Seasonal temperature outlook valid July/August/September 2024. Courtesy the Climate Prediction Center (CPC).

From a temperature perspective, the highest risk for above normal temperatures will be over the desert southwest this summer. But much of the western U.S. is projected to see a warmer than normal July/August/September. Here in Washington, there is a 40-50% chance of above normal temperatures in Western Washington and a 50-60% chance of above normal temperatures in Eastern Washington. This basically means that we’re more likely to see a warm summer than a cold summer, and that’s especially true across eastern Washington. Still, a really hot summer is not guaranteed.

Precipitation Outlook



Seasonal precipitation outlook valid July/August/September 2024. Courtesy the Climate Prediction Center (CPC).

From a precipitation standpoint it’s important to note that summer in the Pacific Northwest is typically dry in a normal year. Fuels will become drier and increasingly available to burn over the summer even if some moisture makes it into the area from time to time. Speaking of which, long-term signals for July/August/September are mixed for how much precipitation will fall across the PNW, with most of Washington in a coin toss for above or below normal precipitation. Putting this into context, we might see some moisture cross the region, occasionally reducing fire danger, but there is no indication that seasonal wildfire risk will be stifled by consistent rain. 

Putting it All Together

In most of Washington and British Columbia, factors such as below average snowpack and likelihood of above normal temperatures suggest a quicker than normal start to fire season and a slightly more active season overall. In contrast, California and Oregon had good water years, likely keeping fire activity around normal or below normal during the first half of the season. 

The second half of the season looks a bit different. By August, warmer than normal temperatures should allow Oregon and California to begin ‘catching up’ in fire activity as heavier fuels finally dry out and become available to burn. Furthermore, lower-mid elevation areas in California have seen increased grass and shrub growth this year from a wet late winter and spring. These fuels will dry out over summer adding fuel loading for potential higher intensity late season fires. With these factors in mind and IF enough ignitions occur, we’re set up to see near to above normal wildfire activity across the west coast during the second half of fire season. It’s also worth noting that a developing La Nina may delay or reduce the late fall and early winter rains in California, potentially extending fire season later into October and November for that region. 

Outlook for significant wildland fire potential, July, August, September (left to right). Courtesy Predictive Services, National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).

More to Come

While this outlook frames possibilities for the upcoming fire season, it is not possible at this time to make accurate predictions of wildfire locations, acreage burned, or air quality values. Even if conditions suggest high fire potential, wildfires don’t start without ignition sources (lightning or human-caused) and this can make a big difference in what kind of season we ultimately have. Additionally, short-term weather patterns play a critical role in determining fire spread, fire suppression possibilities, smoke production, and smoke transport across the region. That’s where the smoke blog comes in -- we’re here to provide information about wildfires and smoke every step of the way. Stay tuned for more updates as summer heats up!