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Wildfires, smoke
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Why Puget Sound likely won’t be seeing wildfire smoke this week

Varden/Cedar/Delancy fires near Mazama, WA on July 12, 2021.

Wildfires burning in Southeast Washington, the Methow Valley, and in the Yakima area are making the smoke moderately strong in those regions this week, but Western Washington looks likely to escape the unhealthy air for now.

The Washington State Department of Ecology issued an air quality warning to Asotin, Garfield, and Whitman counties, noting that the air quality could get up to levels that are unhealthy for sensitive groups.

But if counties west of the mountains get any smoke, it will not be from our own state’s fires.

How to prepare for wildfire smoke during record-setting hot summer

“We are going to be seeing some smoke from British Columbia drifting in over the border to the north-central part of the Cascades,” said Ranil Dhammapala, an atmospheric scientist at the Washington State Department of Ecology. “There is the possibility that a little bit of that might get to the North Cascades area, across the Cascades to the far eastern parts of Western Washington — Whatcom and Skagit counties, maybe the Cascade foothills there.”

He added that even for those hilly, northeast Puget Sound regions that may see some British Columbian smoke, the air quality impact shouldn’t be too noticeable. The smoke is also unlikely to make its way as far south and west as Seattle.

“For the Puget Sound lowlands, you shouldn’t see too much smoke,” Dhammapala said. “Or if there is smoke, it’ll probably remain elevated. It shouldn’t bother us, beyond giving us some pretty sunsets to look at.”

The reason that Western Washington may get some effects of British Columbia’s fires but not our own state’s fires is all to do with wind. Northerly breezes can bring that smoke down across the border.

“We don’t have any major fires west of the Cascades at this point, so you need a strong easterly wind to bring that smoke over here,” Dhammapala said. “And we’re not going to get those easterly winds right now.”

Still, if the hot, dry conditions continue, it’s likely we’ll see more fires throughout the summer. Dhammapala said it is a smart idea to start preparing for a smoke event now so we’re ready if another week like last September’s haze comes upon us. One way to do this is to set up an air filtration system in your home.

“If nothing else is possible, then at least set aside one room as a so-called ‘clean room,’ where you have a good form of air filtration,” Dhammapala said. “This can be as simple as a box fan with a couple of MERV 13 filters with some bungee cords.”

Stock up on N95 masks for going outside in smoky conditions; if you can’t get one of those, KN94 and KN95 masks will also work well against smoke. Ideally, you would not be using these masks much at all, as it is advised to stay inside as much as possible and avoid doing sports or other exerting activities in the smoke.

To plan your trips outdoors and avoid places where the air quality is forecasted to be worse, keep an eye on the Department of Ecology’s air quality map.

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