Thursday, August 11, 2022

Be ready to protect yourself before the smoke hits (and a forecast on that)

It’s always best to be prepared to protect yourself from wildfire smoke—which seems hard to think about with the quiet season we are having so far. But the gift of a slow start to fire season is more time to buy supplies you may need, which typically sell out once the smoke hits.

Reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke by following these steps:

  • Limit outdoor physical activity and take it easy inside.
  • Keep indoor air cleaner by:
    • Closing windows and doors, unless it is too hot to maintain safe temperatures.
    • Not adding to indoor air pollution, such as cigarette smoking or burning candles.
    • Filtering indoor air through an HVAC system, HEPA portable air cleaner, or a DIY box fan filter.
      • There are technical details involved with all of these options and they
        require supplies, so do your homework.
      • Filtering indoor air is the best way to keep you and your family safe.
      • You will hear more about how to build a DIY box fan filter from our expert soon.
    • Setting air conditioners to re-circulate.
  • Seek clean air elsewhere, if the air quality remains poor and 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.

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Bonus smoke forecast from our meteorologist: 

Well over 1,000 lightning strikes have been detected in Washington over the past 48 hours, and with dry and breezy conditions returning this weekend, an uptick in new lightning fires is expected both in the Olympics and the Cascades. Weather conditions west of the Cascades are not conducive to fast fire growth through the weekend, but the same cannot be said for areas east of the Cascades. A new fire 5-10 miles west of Lake Wenatchee was noted this morning after storms exited the region, and there is concern that this fire could grow as the weather becomes drier and breezier this weekend. Smoke from the fire is currently visible on satellite moving north-northwest, but winds are expected to shift over the next 24-48 hours and begin blowing the smoke to the east. At this time, smoke settling in the Puget Lowlands looks unlikely, but areas near Chelan, Wenatchee, and Omak need to monitor fire developments through the weekend. As weather conditions become more conducive to fire growth over the next week, we will be monitoring for those potential smoke impacts and updating this blog as more information becomes available.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Recent fires sending moderate smoke to parts of central and eastern Washington

Several fires around our state have started to cause moderate smoke impacts in parts of central and eastern Washington. The Keremeos Creek wildfire in BC (north of Oroville) has burned more than 10,000 acres and periodically has been sending smoke to the northern parts of Okanogan, Ferry, and Stevens counties.  Meanwhile the Vantage Highway fire (east of Ellensburg) has also burned more than 10,000 acres, but with minimal smoke impacts.  Two new wildfires also cropped up yesterday: the Cow Canyon fire (over 2,000 acres, southwest of Ellensburg) and the Williams Lake fire (over 3,200 acres, southwest of Spokane County).  If you live somewhere near a wildfire, make sure to check evacuation alerts and protect yourself from smoke impacts.

So far smoke impacts this year have been minimal, and thankfully fire crews have been able to concentrate resources effectively to minimize fire growth.  However, another heat wave is expected next week, so fire growth and new fires will continue to be a concern.



Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Quick tips for using the AirNow Fire and Smoke map

Fortunately, this summer has been fairly uneventful for most of the state in regards to wildfire smoke so we thought we’d take a moment and show you some tips on how get the most out of the AirNow Fire and Smoke Map. 
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Zooming in and out 

To zoom in and out simply click on the map and scroll forward or backward with your mouse. You can also drag the map left to right, by clicking and holding as you drag.
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What the icons mean

The map icons show the locations of permanent and temporary air quality monitors and sensors, as well as where the fires and smoke are.

If you click on an icon, you can get more detailed information on air quality and fire incidents. 
For information about data sources, or to add or remove data layers, click the “layers” icon.
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Get the smoke forecast 

Use the blue slider bar to get smoke forecasts for up to 5 days (when available).  






You can click on a specific area (polygon shape) to get more information. 

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ColorVision Assist feature 

A version of the map is available for people with color vision deficiencies. This version uses a modified color scale that makes it easier for some people to distinguish between the colors of the U.S. Air Quality Index (AQI). 

To open the ColorVision Assist layer, click the multi-colored wheel in the upper right hand corner of the map.

Click on the icon again to disable the ColorVision Assist. 
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Get more help 

For more assistance on using the map features, view the full instructional guide, or click on the white question mark in the upper right hand corner. 


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Tuesday, July 26, 2022

A Heat Wave and Minor Wildfire Smoke

The Heat

The last week in July and the first week in August are, on average, the hottest weeks of the year for Washington, and Summer 2022 sure is living up to that billing! Excessive Heat Warnings and Heat Advisories cover nearly the entire state, and will remain in effect through Friday evening. Tuesday the 26th will be the hottest day for areas west of the Cascades, where temperatures will climb into the upper 90s across the Puget Lowlands, while areas east of the Cascades will continue warming through Thursday, with many areas reaching 105-110F through the end of the week. Temperatures will struggle to cool down each night this week, exacerbating heat illness among vulnerable populations. Seattle has opened up numerous cooling centers, with cities across the state following suit. 

NWS Heat Risk: Tuesday (left) and Thursday (right)



Minor Wildfire Smoke Intrusions, Low Impact

While Washington has managed to make it through July with below average fire activity, wildfire season is in full swing across much of the western United States. Several large fires in and around Yosemite in east-central California are emitting smoke that may cause some haze in southwest Washington in the coming days. Additionally, the Nohomin Creek fire near Lytton, BC has surpassed 5,000 acres, and smoke was able to ride the Fraser Valley outflow into northwest Washington last night. I anticipate that very little smoke from either region will make it to the surface in Washington, but haze formation in the mid-levels is likely through the end of the week, concentrated in far southwest Washington, and the North Cascades/Okanagan National Forest. Below is a satellite image of the smoke in northwest Washington and a hi-res model forecast depicting total wildfire smoke, nearly all of which is located above 5000ft in altitude. 

  

Air Quality

AQI across the state is generally good, with some Moderate values showing up along the I-5 corridor between Tacoma and Seattle. Strong nighttime temperature inversions under the very hot mid-level ridge are notorious for causing air quality issues, but thankfully western Washington is seeing good ventilation in the afternoons. Of note, no areas under the smoke haze from British Columbia are reporting elevated AQI values, a good sign that the smoke is remaining elevated for the time being. 



Thank you for reading the Washington Smoke Blog! Please leave a comment if you have any questions, concerns, or feedback for the team!

Matthew Dehr
Wildland Fire Meteorologist

Friday, July 22, 2022

2022 Wildfire season kicks off in Central WA

The Stayman Flats fire southwest of Chelan is Washington’s first large fire of the year. The fire,  reported on Monday, July 18, quickly grew in size over the next several days. The fast moving fire resulted in Level 3 evacuation notices for some residents. As of Thursday, July 21, the fire consumed 1,200 acres of sagebrush and grassland. Thankfully, the fire is now at 80% containment and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) continues to have crews on the fire.

Stayman Flats Fire near Chelan, WA
The Stayman Flats fire from earlier this week. Photo from WA DNR.
Washington’s first big fire of the year comes as we approach the hottest week of summer so far. Weather forecasts predict temperatures could soar into triple digits east of the Cascades next week. This extreme heat will continue to dry out the fine fuels (grasses and brush) that feed fast burning fires, like the Stayman Flats fire. Longer burning fuels (think timbered lands) in the mountains will also lose moisture as the summer continues, increasing the chance of larger, prolonged fires.

Although the Stayman Flats fire is the first large fire this summer, we did not see major smoke impacts. Air quality monitors remained in the green in most areas. Overall, smoke remained confined to the immediate area around the southern tip of Lake Chelan. However, the Stayman Flats fire is a good reminder for everyone to be vigilant as the weather warms and summer thunderstorms loom.

Here are some key things to remember:

Let’s all be safe and prepared as we move into this wildfire season!
#SmokeReadyTogether    #SmokeReady

Monday, June 13, 2022

 2022 Smoke Ready Week is June 13-17th

Even though we’re seeing a lot of rain this year, summer is quickly approaching and now is the ideal time to prepare for wildfire smoke season.

As we know in the Pacific Northwest, wildfire smoke not only affects your outdoor plans, but it can make it hard to breathe, and cause or worsen existing health problems.

Every year federal, state, and local agencies and Tribes across the region get #SmokeReady to bring you the most current information on how wildfire smoke may impact your summer plans and health through this blog. 

Read more about wildfire prevention, where to find burn ban information, how to monitor air quality, and get smoke forecasts on the Washington Dept. of Ecology’s website.

And then take some time to review the Washington Dept. of Health’s guidance on how to protect yourself and your family’s health from wildfire smoke.

Let's get #SmokeReadyTogether and have a safe and enjoyable summer!

Photo by 13enman on Reddit

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

 We’ll be back summer 2022

In the meantime, here is some useful information and contacts for your off-season inquiries.

Current air quality conditions

The air monitoring map on this blog displays current data and is active all year long. Mobile users can find it here. For additional monitors, view the Monitoring & Forecasting tab.

Local air quality contacts

Have questions about smoke or air quality issues today? Contact your local clean air agency. Phone numbers, websites, and a printable map are available here. Also view the Contact Information tab for additional county contacts including local health, emergency management, and sheriff’s offices.  

Visit Ecology’s website for more information on air quality burn bans in the winter.

For emergencies, please call 911.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

End of Custom Local Smoke Outlooks for 2021 (probably)

For the better part of the summer of 2021, we've had specially trained Air Resource Advisors (ARA's) working somewhere in Washington to create custom, local smoke outlooks for communities near wildfires. Air Resource Advisors are dispatched to incident management teams to help inform communities of current and future smoke impacts. ARA's also work with fire teams on ways to protect fire personnel from smoke, calculate visibility impairment from smoke to advise fire aviation resources of likely times they can fly, advise the public on strategies to minimize their smoke exposure and protect their health, bring in supplemental monitoring instruments, and coordinate with local officials to serve other smoke-related needs in a local area. You can learn more about the Interagency Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program and ARA's at this link: https://www.wildlandfiresmoke.net/

Temporary monitor installed in Mazama, WA during Cedar Creek fire.

In 2021, five fire teams worked with ARA's in Washington. 

  • Cedar Creek/Cub Creek 2/Muckamuck: smoke forecasts for Methow Valley, Okanogan Valley, Pateros, Chelan.
  • Summit Trail: smoke forecasts for Colville Reservation, Republic, and Colville.
  • Twentyfive Mile: smoke forecasts for Chelan area from Brewster to Leavenworth and Wenatchee.
  • Schneider Springs: smoke forecasts for Yakima Valley from Nile to Sunnyside, plus Cle Elum, Ellensburg, and Quincy.
  • Lick Creek/Green Ridge: smoke forecasts for SE Washington from Dayton to Clarkston. 

ARA's in Washington in 2021


Recent rains have greatly diminished the amount of smoke coming from these fires and although fire teams are still working to extinguish the fires, we no longer have any Air Resource Advisors working in the state. You may have noticed there was a Local Smoke Outlooks tab added to the set of tabs above which is now hidden but ready to go again if needed whether this year or next. 


Thursday, September 16, 2021

Most smoke-impacted areas in Washington during summer 2021

As we await potentially season ending rains this weekend, this may well be our last post for summer 2021. So we focus on the two areas most impacted by smoke in summer 2021: portions of Yakima and Okanogan counties.

Fires in the Methow Valley led to poor air quality in Okanogan county earlier in the season than in previous years. The Schneider Springs fire in western Yakima county has been causing trouble since August 4. Here's a plot of all monitors in each area averaged together on a daily basis. We've included low-cost PurpleAir sensor data by adjusting them with the same correction factor as in the map above. 

To visualize the summer average of PM2.5 in each of the communities, we constructed an interactive map by fusing satellite data, air quality model data and all available monitoring data. We used the same monitors as above, but only included PurpleAir sensors which reported at least one month of data. More geeky details are available on request.

Click on the image below to view the interactive version. 

Disclaimer: this map is for informational purposes only. It does not establish legal culpability nor should it be used to distinguish air quality differences between your front yard and back yard. 

You can see where the most impacted areas were: right by the fires and all the higher terrain where plumes hit, followed by nearby valleys where smoke drains into. Since these are approximately 3-month averages, they're not directly comparable against the daily and annual federal PM2.5 standards of 35 and 12µg/m³ respectively. 

Not to trivialize smoke that plagued other parts of the state, but the sad reality people in these two areas faced was worse. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The Schneider Springs Fire: A closer look

A quick glance at the fire and smoke map at the top of this page reveals that the Yakima region is currently experiencing some of the worst air quality in the state. Since the start of the Schneider Springs Fire on August 3, there have only been six days of good air quality in Yakima County. Compared to the rest of the state since the start of the Schneider Springs Fire, Yakima County has experienced the most days in AQI categories other than good.



 

The animated plot below visualizes the daily PM2.5 values from both regulatory monitors (outlined solid circles) and low-cost sensors (transparent circles, no outline) in Yakima County since the fire began—the size of the circle is related to the daily PM2.5 concentration. Bigger circles = more smoke.

 

How does the air quality compare to the terrible air quality of 2020 as well as previous years? The good news is that there haven’t been any days of hazardous air quality this year. So far this summer looks comparable to the 2018 wildfire season in Yakima County.

 

Unfortunately, the fire is still active, and it is likely that smoke will continue to impact Yakima County. Check out the Smoke Outlooks tab for daily updates, and check out these tips from DOH about protecting your indoor air quality from the smoke outside.