Western Washington enters wildfire dangerous territory ahead of weekend heat wave
The I-90 bridge over Lake Washington disappears due to heavy smoke from the wildfires September 11, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson / Getty Images)
With drought conditions and record heat in Washington, it unfortunately looks like the summer wildfire trend in Washington will continue this year. But there are steps you can take right now to protect yourself from wildfire smoke.
Already, red flag light warnings are increasing in parts of the state, as even western Washington appears to be heading for triple-digit numbers this weekend.
“Looking at the forecast ahead here, we could be on the verge of another pretty big season yet again,” Steve Ready of the National Weather Service told KIRO Radio.
He noted that the wildfire season starts in July, but in recent years it tends to be earlier. And while the state’s snowpack was in good shape at the start of the month, that is changing quickly with this week’s warm temperatures, leading to drier conditions.
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Smoke from forest fires comes with a whole host of health hazards, as exposure to smoke – even for just a few days in an otherwise pristine condition – can be very damaging to your health.
“This week we smoked last year, in September 2020, those concentrations were about a third of the pollution for the whole year in a week,” said Graeme Carvlin, air resources specialist at Puget Sound Clean Air. Agency.
Carvlin noted that for the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and especially for people with pre-existing respiratory problems like asthma, smoke from wildfires can increase the chances of getting very sick or can potentially be deadly. And even those who are young and healthy are not immune to the long-term health problems associated with exposure to smoke.
“Even months later, if you’re heavily exposed, you can have lingering health effects,” Carvlin warned.
This can manifest itself, for example, in a difficult flu attack in the winter after a summer filled with smoke. And while research is still ongoing, it is also possible that someone exposed to smoke from a forest fire is at risk of contracting a more serious case of COVID-19. Carvlin noted that the link between COVID and people living in smoggy conditions has already been studied.
“There is a pretty clear link between higher pollution levels and an increased chance of catching COVID-19 and having more severe symptoms,” Carvlin explained.
So what should you do to stay on your toes when the smoke starts to fill the sky?
Carvlin suggests that you create a clean air space in your home by closing all windows and using an air filtration system. This can be done with an air purifier, or, for a cheaper commute, you can also make your own filter with a box fan. Puget Sound Clean Air has online instructions on how to take this DIY approach.
But purifying the air is not enough.
“When you create a clean indoor air space, you want to keep winters and doors closed, filter the air, but also reduce the sources of pollution inside your home,” Carvlin said.
This means that you should avoid burning candles, frying food, and vacuuming the clean air space as they can spread dust and other particles throughout the house.
When the weather gets hot like it is this week and the risk of forest fires is high, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the weather conditions so you can predict the worst. Puget Sound Clean Air’s online air quality map shows you the level of pollutants in the area, so you can check daily if things seem to be going in the wrong direction. You should do your shopping before a smoke episode if possible, to limit your trips outside.
If you need to get out, a tight mask like an N95 or KN95 mask will help. If you can’t find any of these masks online, an N95 style home repair work mask from a hardware store like Home Depot or Lowe’s will also keep the smoke out.
“These don’t work for COVID, because then you exhale particles, but they’re great for smoke from wildfires,” Carvlin said. “These should be available, people should be able to buy them. If you have to go to a place that requires a mask for COVID reasons, you can simply put a surgical mask on top of it. “
For more advice on wildfire smoke, visit the Puget Sound Clean Air website.
Diane Duthweiler of KIRO Radio contributed to this report.