PENINSULA — Red air-quality warnings across the Evergreen state last week were “lighting up the map like a Christmas tree,” a state Department of Ecology blog post announced on Friday.
But, by Saturday afternoon, the thick wildfire smoke that had the region socked-in was lifting. And most people on the Peninsula, along with neighbors throughout Western Washington, were back to breathing green or “good” air again. That’s according to the color-coded system for smog monitoring used by state and federal agencies.
However, on Sunday, the National Weather Service in Portland continued an Air Quality Alert for Pacific County and much of the surrounding region, in effect through 7 p.m. Tuesday.
“Wildfires burning in the region combined with forecast conditions will cause air quality to reach unhealthy levels due to smoke and ozone at times through Tuesday evening,” the weather service said. “Pollutants in smoke can cause burning eyes, runny nose, aggravate heart and lung diseases, and aggravate other serious health problems. Limit outdoor activities and keep children indoors if it is smoky. Please follow medical advice if you have a heart or lung condition.”
Smoke from raging wildfires in British Columbia left Washington with some of the dirtiest air in the country last week, U.S. Forest Service data show. It’s not uncommon for the state to issue health warnings for smoke in areas around burning forests during wildfire season. However, Ecology’s air-quality coordinator Mike Ragan said, it is unusual for such precautions to be called for throughout Washington.
“When the state’s cleanest air monitor hits very high levels of pollution, you know it’s bad.” he said in Friday’s blog.
The state’s least polluted air is usually measured at Cheeka Peak on the Olympic Peninsula. However, Ragan said, like other monitors across Washington, it too showed dense smoke that was likely making it hard for people to breathe.
Smogging through it
Earlier last week, air pollution measured in Aberdeen and Longview reached well above the what is considered to be a healthy range.
Once the air becomes dirtier than a daily average of 12 micrograms of particle pollution per cubic meter, people who have breathing problems or certain illnesses are more likely to have trouble. Other sensitive groups, such as children and the elderly, might also be affected as air quality worsens. Eventually everyone is advised to avoid activities and going outside.
Tests in Aberdeen showed air quality levels considered “unhealthy” for some on Wednesday and everyone on Thursday. Pollution levels fell back into a low-risk range by Friday.
The threat around Longview was lowered on Friday to “moderate” for those who have breathing difficulty or certain illnesses. The news came after air pollution caused increasingly unhealthy conditions in the area from Tuesday to Thursday, when everyone was advised to avoid the outdoors and take other precautions.
On Saturday, air quality improved throughout much of Western Washington on Saturday, including around South Bend.
Fire danger remains high in Pacific County, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Restrictions that took effect on July 14 remain in place.
All debris burning is suspended and recreational fires are limited to approved pits. Fires can be no larger than 3 feet across and 2 feet high.
State officials suggest people check with local authorities before lighting any outdoor fire. For a list of burn bans in Washington, go to waburnbans.net.
Caution: smoke may be hazardous
The haze in the air is made up of small solids and liquid droplets that carry dust, dirt, soot, smoke or other particles that can be inhaled. Even healthy people can be adversely affected. Symptoms to watch for include, itchy eyes and throat, coughing, headache, nausea, sneezing and trouble breathing.
To avoid potential health problems from breathing as wildfires burn across the region, state officials recommend people limit physical activities and stay inside with the windows closed when air quality is unhealthy. Wearing a mask can also help when going outdoors is unavoidable. However, as a general rule, if there’s smoke outside, find another day to wax the Subaru, hike that switchback or get rid of the moss on the roof.
The U.S. Forest Service AirFire website has a map of wildfires and surrounding air quality at tinyurl.com/ycxdeuqw. To check out monitoring reports for specific areas, go to tinyurl.com/y9j5kq4c.