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Air quality could remain unhealthy until Friday

Smoke from area wildfires has settled in and around Spokane; this photo was taken Tuesday afternoon. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Smoke from area wildfires has settled in and around Spokane; this photo was taken Tuesday afternoon. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Air quality in the Spokane area dipped into the unhealthy range Tuesday and could remain so until Friday as the region became inundated with smoke from area wildfires.

The Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency, along with the Washington Department of Ecology, issued air quality warnings for much of Central and Eastern Washington, warning that air quality could be of particular concern to sensitive people, such as those with heart and lung disease, older adults, children and smokers. Air quality was measured in the category of “unhealthy for some groups” on Tuesday.

Lisa Woodard, spokeswoman for the Spokane air agency, said a high-pressure weather system, mixed with wildfires burning near Chelan in the North Cascades and closer to home near Cheney and Davenport, were to blame for a stagnant, smoky system over the region.

“Because there’s fires in various directions, we can see this kind of swirling pattern,” she said. “That is a perfect ingredient for bringing smoke from the area wildfires.”

Respite could come in the form of moderate wind gusts Friday and through the weekend that could push some of the smoke out of the area and to the north. But it could have the unwanted effect of bringing more smoke to the region from Oregon and California, where the state is experiencing its largest wildfire in recorded history.

Bryce Williams, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Spokane, said higher winds leading in to the weekend also could contribute to more area wildfires spurred by the increased oxygen.

“It’s a recipe for high fire danger,” he said. “We’re asking people to be more cautious Friday.”

Williams said the potentially record-breaking high temperatures will take a back seat this weekend after peaking in the triple digits Thursday. By Saturday, he said it could cool to 80 degrees and remain moderate the following few days.

Data from the Clean Air Agency suggests Tuesday’s unhealthy air over Spokane is the first the region has experienced since Sept. 14 of last year. Woodard said officials have become increasingly concerned as of late, since trends point to prolonged periods of unhealthy air, particularly in the late summer.

Last year was the worst for fire smoke since record-keeping began in 1999, with 18 days of air quality in the unhealthy range; 16 of them from August in September alone.

In that period of time, Spokane also saw its three unhealthiest days, when smoke from large wildfires in British Columbia, Canada and Montana drifted to the region, putting air quality in the very unhealthy category.


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