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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Air quality in Spokane reaches ‘very unhealthy’ Monday as smoke blankets area

Spokane’s air quality index remained “unhealthy” all day Monday, but spiked to “very unhealthy” in the evening as multiple fires around the state and in North Idaho and western Montana funneled smoke into the region.

The Spokane Regional Health District urged people to remain indoors as much as possible and to avoid rigorous outdoor activities while the air quality remained very unhealthy.

“At this range, everyone is at risk of more serious health effects due to exposure,” the health district said in a news release.

The air quality index hovered between 160 and 180 at the Wellesley Avenue and Monroe Street monitoring station most of the day, but as of 6 p.m. had reached 213, in the “very unhealthy” category. Parts of the Idaho Panhandle, including Sandpoint and Priest River, spent much of Monday in the “very unhealthy” range, with air quality readings between 205 and 220 Monday afternoon.

The heavy layer of smoke forced area school districts, including Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, to keep students indoors Monday, including for recess, P.E. and athletics.

Smoke from the Kootenai River Complex and from Boulder Mountain fires was blown in from the northeast. A slow-moving weather pattern was expected to provide slight relief Tuesday, but not much, said Todd Carter, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

No matter which direction the wind blows, it’s likely to push smoke from one of the surrounding fires, Carter said.

“I wouldn’t pinpoint a single fire,” said Department of Natural Resources spokesman Ryan Rodruck. “It’s multiple fires in the region, and the way the wind and weather and pressure patterns are working are holding it in Spokane.”

Washington state is currently directing most of its efforts on quelling the Bolt Creek fire near Skykomish, which ignited over the weekend, Rodruck said. The fire is at 7,660 acres and 2% containment.

Fire crews are also still focusing on the Boulder Mountain fire in the Colville National Forest, which had reached 2,175 acres and 21% containment, as well as the Goat Rocks fire in south-central Washington, which had reached 2,842 acres and 0% containment, Rodruck said.

The Seven Bays fire, near Davenport, was winding down after reaching 100% containment on Monday, Rodruck said.

“We are seeing a pretty significant rise in those relative humidity rates. That’s going to start to dampen some of that fuel, but the fuel on the ground is still very, very dry,” Rodruck said. “There is still a lot of caution that needs to be used until we get that big season-ender rain event.”

Rodruck said that usually happens before October.

“When Labor Day comes around, I tend to breathe a sigh of relief,” he said. “That’s obviously not the case here.”

Another larger weather pattern is expected to move through the Pacific Northwest this weekend, but it’s too early to say whether it will bring enough moisture to saturate the ground, Carter said.

“What we’re looking for is the system that knocks down the summer and keeps it down,” Carter said.

People still carried on about their day Monday in Spokane, despite the unhealthy air quality.

“It sucks because there’s nothing you can do,” said Thomas Solinsky, from atop his bike near the north end of the Monroe Street Bridge. “It’s (bad) for some people, but if you’re used to working out, it’s not going to affect you as much.”

Solinsky, who is visiting from Nashville, Tennessee, and fellow bicyclist Rich McQuesten have spent the past few days of poor air quality running and biking. On Monday, they completed a 25-mile ride.

“We used to play music in smoky bars, so it doesn’t bother us all the time,” McQuesten said.

Danica Bartnett walks a lot in Spokane and doesn’t let the smoke dictate what she does unless it’s significantly worse, she said.

“It’s more just muggy and gross,” the bartender at the Viking said. “But compared to the last couple of years, it’s not as bad.”

Spokane’s air quality reached hazardous levels in September 2020 when the air quality index reached 499 out of a 500-point scale.

The health district on Monday evening advised that if people must be outdoors when air quality is very unhealthy, they should wear a properly fitted N95 mask – not a fabric or surgical mask. To keep the air inside homes as clean as possible, the health district urged residents to keep windows and doors closed.

To keep indoor air as clean as possible, people should keep windows and doors closed, use a high-efficiency particulate air filter to reduce indoor air pollution or make a do-it-yourself box fan filter. People should also avoid smoking tobacco, burning candles, incenses or vacuuming. Those looking to get out of the smoke can find clean air spaces at local libraries, malls and movie theaters, the district said.