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Not out of the question: Wildfire smoke could return to Washington

(File, Associated Press)

The smoke from the wildfires in British Columbia finally began clearing out Friday afternoon. That doesn’t mean it’s gone completely.

After about two weeks of poor air quality, region-wide alerts began expiring and Puget Sound residents could finally step outside and breathe with a little more confidence.

RELATED: Why Washington’s summer air quality has been more like winter

The short-term forecast has called for cooler temperatures with a weather pattern that will keep the smoke from hundreds of wildfires out of Western Washington, or at least from jeopardizing our air as much as it has. A high-pressure system is responsible for trapping the smoke in the region over the past couple weeks. That high pressure will move east, according to the National Weather Service. The movement will cause air to flow from the south and push away the smoke.

Cities around Puget Sound fluctuated from moderate air quality to unhealthy amid the haze. The Air Quality Index finally began showing steady improvement on Friday, when the air quality was considered “moderate” or better throughout most of Western Washington.

There’s no guarantee that the smoke is gone for good, however. There are hundreds of wildfires burning in British Columbia, many which are far from under control. It’s been called the most destructive wildfire season in decades. And that smoke has to go somewhere.

Ranil Dhammapala with the Washington State Department of Ecology says there’s a possibility the smoke will return. But when asked during a conference call last week, he wasn’t able to forecast when and if that will happen.

“But we really don’t want to hang our hats on predictions that happen after [the week] because the uncertainty is pretty wide,” he said. “Chances do exist that we could return to this pattern, that is not out of the question. But this has been prolonged and so widespread … who knows, it may not be the last time.”

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