(By Brandon Hansen/Chewelah Independent)
How bad is the air quality because of wildfire smoke?
By most measures, pretty bad.
While there is no nearby wildfires for the Chewelah area, fires in Canada, Montana and Washington have combined to make the valley a smoky vista the past week.
More than 20 major wildfires are currently burning in British Columbia. It’s a record-breaking fire season for our neighbors to the north. Over a million acres have burned in the providence this year, costing $172.5 million in damages and requiring over 4,000 firefighters.
With warm continental winds pushing the smoke south over basically the entire state of Washington, air quality has dropped to the nation’s worst. Portland and Spokane suffering from air quality that is poorer than normally smog-ridden cities like Mexico City and Beijing.
People in Washington are being urged to stay indoors because of the air quality. And, for at least the time being, the smoke is sticking around until next week. Western winds over the weekend were not powerful enough to flush the smoke out. Expect air quality ranging from moderate to unhealthy, as an air alert is in place until Saturday.
According to readings from Washington’s Air Monitoring Network, the air quality has improved to mostly healthy along the coast, but the Seattle metro area, the Cascades and Eastern Washington still have unhealthy air quality.
“We want people to stay indoors if possible,” Washington Department of Ecology Air Quality Communications Manager Camille St. Onge said. “This is not the time to exercise outside so hold off on that 5K training run you had planned.”
Seattle got a double-edged sword effect from the smoke. While it has made the air quality bad, it also served as a sunshine shield to help provide a little relief from what was expected to be a triple-digit heat wave last week. Instead, the Emerald City was in the high 90s.
So what is the air quality like? Let’s just say you shouldn’t be canning and selling this stuff.
The way air pollution is measured is a daily average of particle pollution per cubic meter. Anything up to 12 micrograms is considered healthy.
Anywhere between 51-100 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups.
Readings above 151-200 are considered so bad they can impact many individuals.
Colville’s air quality on Friday afternoon, Aug. 4, was measured at 169.
Cheeka Peak, located in Western Washington is considered a location with some of the cleanest air in the state on average. The Canadian smoke however, caused the air quality to plummet (or rise) to a reading of 208 on Aug. 4.
“Cheeka Peak is near a shipping lane on the coast,” Mike Ragan, Ecology’s air monitoring coordinator said. “That’s not where we expect to see dense air pollution.”
When it came to predicting this smoke, Forecasters and the Department of Ecology saw this coming but did not expect it to be this severe.
“We knew a lot of smoke would transport from the B.C. fires, but this really is unprecedented,” said Ranil Dhammapala, an Ecology atmospheric scientist.
St. Onge said the state of Washington has never been blanketed entirely like this.