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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

How to stay safe as Washington faces poor air quality, wildfire, heat-related illness risks

The Spokane County Superior Courthouse is seen through the haze on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in downtown Spokane. The air quality was hazardous and hovered just below 500 at the time of this photo.  (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review)
By Vonnai Phair Seattle Times

Increasingly hot and dry weather and correspondingly low humidity have prompted the National Weather Service to issue a fire weather watch for the Cascades through the weekend as both sides of the state begin to swelter.

A wildfire near Chelan sparked on the Fourth of July has burned 800 acres, as of Friday morning, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. The cause is under investigation, and the fire had no containment.

Holiday fireworks sparked a fire burning near Wenatchee, according to the Wenatchee World. The fire has prompted evacuation notices from Chelan County Emergency Management.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office received 458 reports of fireworks-related incidents last year, including 255 injuries and 203 fires. Fireworks-related blazes caused more about $2.5 million in property loss in 2023, and most of those fires and injuries occurred on the Fourth of July, representing a 10-year constant.

Two other fires, the Pioneer fire and 1980 Slide Ranch fire, which both sparked in June, continued to burn thousands of acres across the state as of Friday morning.

So far in 2024, about 20 large fires have burned roughly 63,000 acres across Washington and Oregon as of Friday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Burn bans are in effect in the state’s 39 counties, according to the state Department of Ecology. This means yard debris fires are prohibited. Recreational fires no bigger than 3 feet in diameter and the use of grills, pellet smokers and charcoal grills are still largely permitted.

Fuels, like grass and bushes, are expected to rapidly dry out over the weekend, the weather service said, increasing the potential for new and fast-spreading blazes in our tinderbox landscape.

Heat and smoky air

In the aftermath of holiday fireworks, air quality across the region was poor Friday morning. Particularly in the Puget Sound region, wind will be slow to scour out stagnant air and lingering smoke, according to the Washington Emergency Management Division, elevating AQI values into the weekend.

A ridge of high pressure nudging inland from over the ocean is tugging temperatures steadily up the thermometer. Highs in the coming days are expected to spike up to 20 degrees above early July’s average temperature of 74 degrees.

Temperatures are expected to peak at up to 100 degrees Sunday through Tuesday across the Puget Sound interior, according to the weather service.

A heat advisory is in effect for the entire region from Friday afternoon to Sunday evening along the coast and Monday evening elsewhere across Western Washington.

Highs are projected to stay above 80 degrees through mid-July with below-normal precipitation, according to the weather service’s Climate Prediction Center.

The Washington State Department of Health is reminding people that moderate to extreme heat can lead to dehydration, exhaustion, injury and death, especially in young children, older people and those sensitive to heat or who don’t have access to effective cooling and hydration. The DOH recommends these tips for staying safe.

Watch the forecast. The forecast can help you to plan activities so that you are not caught outside or in confined and unventilated spaces during the hottest part of the day. Save strenuous activities for the early morning or evening after the sun goes down. If you must work outdoors, make sure you have water and access to shade.

  • Dress for the weather. Wear loose, breathable clothing and wide-brim hats, and stay in the shade. A sunscreen with high UV protection is a good precaution.
  • Drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids. Sweat will quickly drain your body of vital moisture. Make sure you keep water with you during outdoor activities and in your car for emergencies. Tap water is perfectly fine for cooling off and to rehydrate, according to DOH.
  • Keep your home cool. In the morning, close your windows and blinds to keep out the heat and retain the cool air inside your insulated home. Use fans to move cool air inside. After the sun goes down, you can open your windows again to let in the cooler evening air.

Material from the Seattle Times archives was used in this report.