Monday, September 25, 2023

Residential wood smoke from home-heating on the rise

It's gotten cold out there!  Autumn is finally here and with that comes cooler weather and the need to heat homes.  Residential wood smoke from home-heating should be expected, especially at night and in the mornings when woodstoves and other wood-burning devices are regularly used.  Temperature inversions and light winds can cause smoke to stagnate, especially in valley communities.  This blog is intended to focus on wildfire smoke, but forecasts will be issued by Local Clean Air Agencies on their own sites and on AirNow.  As the season progresses, the National Weather Service may issue Air Stagnation Advisories and clean air agencies may initiate air quality burn-bans posted on their web pages, though we usually don't see those until November. 

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! 

Friday, September 15, 2023

Outlook: good air quality and localized smoke impacts

 The majority of the state continues to experience good air quality and low fire danger. A very clear satellite image from this morning--only the smoke plumes from the Airplane Lake Fire and agricultural burning in SE WA are visible, as well as smoke in Oregon):

The Airplane Lake Fire continues to cause intermittent smoke impacts around the Lake Wenatchee area and into the Wenatchee Valley, impacting the communities of Leavenworth, Cashmere, and Wenatchee. These intermittent smoke impacts will continue until the next significant precipitation event. There is potential for light smoke impacts today in East Snohomish County, but winds from the west this weekend will push any smoke east of the Cascades.

Across the rest of the state, fires in the Cowlitz Complex comprise almost 700 acres and are partially contained. Smoke from these fires is not expected to impact nearby communities. The Sourdough Fire continues to intermittently impact areas close to the fire in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. There are also a few fires currently burning in the Olympics that were ignited two weeks ago by lightning strikes. Smoke from these fires (including the Eagle Point and Low Divide Fires) may intermittently impact Port Angeles and higher-elevation areas around Port Angeles. 

Weekend outlook: warm and dry conditions are forecasted for the weekend, but we're not expecting any significant new fire activity. Increased smoke from any local fires and prescribed burning may cause localized moderate air quality levels. Forecasted high winds across Central and Eastern Washington along with the dry conditions can lead to rapid fire spread; please continue to recreate responsibly.


Taking a look back at our air quality this wildfire season, below is a plot of observed daily air quality levels for each day in each county in the state where there is an air quality monitor. Each row corresponds to the daily average at the most impacted monitor observed in each county on a given day. The major events we saw this wildfire season are highlighted--smoke from the Alberta fires in May, smoke from the Cascades and Southern BC fires in August as well as local fires in Spokane, and smoke from fireworks on the 4th of July. 

And how does this season compare to previous years? If we look at a timeseries of PM2.5 concentrations averaged across the state during wildfire seasons over the past 10 years, this year we saw smoke impacts in August, which is pretty typical. In previous years, easterly wind events have contributed to large smoke events in September and October. While it's only mid-September, that seems increasingly unlikely to occur this year, thanks to the recent cool temperatures and precipitation in the region and the low number of active fires in the Cascades.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Good air quality and low fire danger

Despite good air quality in most of the state, the Airplane Lake fire still has active hot-spots and is producing smoke that's been impacting residents around Lake Wenatchee.  Intermittent moderate smoke is also affecting the nearby communities of Entiat and Cashmere.  The Airplane Lake fire has only grown 200 acres over the past few days, but the fire is uncontained and will continue to produce smoke until the next wetting rains occur, which are not expected anytime soon.  

A wind shift is expected tonight, and moderate smoke from the Airplane Lake fire is expected to impact mountain towns in Snohomish County (such as Darrington) over the weekend.  That shouldn't last long though, as westerly winds are expected to pick back up on Sunday afternoon.

The Sourdough fire near the Ross Lake National Recreation Area is partly contained and has not grown much at all, prompting officials to reopen some trails and camps in the area.  Smoke from the fire has been minimal and intermittent, with no large hot-spots detected recently.

Other fires of note in Washington are in the Cowlitz Complex, with 700 acres burned across several fires.  Despite partial containment, there is still moderate fire behavior at the Snagtooth, Spencer Quartz, and Grassy Mountain fires.  No significant smoke has been detected in the area so far, but sensors are sparse in the region.

Fire danger remains too low for much risk of new significant fires in the coming days. The majority of our wildfire season has passed, and we don't expect any big flare-ups.   Since air quality and fire weather are not a concern, agricultural burning in the Columbia Basin and Idaho has begun.  Residents near agricultural communities from Yakima to Whitman county will likely see intermittent moderate smoke from agricultural burning through the month.

Smoke from the Airplane Lake Fire (image courtesy of

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