Air Quality Alert as wind shift blows B.C. wildfire smoke into Western Washington

Photo from NASA MODIS satellite taken on Aug. 1, 2017 showing wildfire smoke spreading south into Western Washington (Photo: NASA/MODIS)

SEATTLE -- Smoke from wildfires burning in British Columbia began spreading into Western Washington Tuesday turning skies from their traditional sapphire blue to more of a milky haze and degrading the air quality.

An Air Quality Alert has been issued by the Washington Department of Ecology for Whatcom, Skagit and parts of Snohomish Counties in addition to the San Juan, Whidbey and Camano Islands with air quality varying as low as the "unhealthy for sensitive groups".

The Ecology department warns "children, the elderly and those with respiratory illnesses are at most risk for serious health effects."

The smoke came in tandem with a budding heat wave building into the Pacific Northwest. As a ridge of high pressure intensified, the winds have shifted to blowing in from the north/northeast, spreading smoke across Vancouver and south into Western Washington.

Air quality sensors from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency showed most areas in the region were still in the good air quality category as of midday Tuesday, but slipped into the moderate category at several Puget Sound area sensors during the afternoon and the air quality was expected to degrade as additional smoke pours in.

The smoky haze is making for some rather intense reddish sunsets this week as the smoke particles help scatter out the shorter wavelength colors, leaving the reds and oranges to survive.

More than 800 fires have charred about 2,600 square miles across British Columbia since April 1 and 6,000 people are currently displaced by the flames.

And the weather going forward is no help. The Northwest has been locked into a dry pattern since mid-June with no relief in sight. And now temperatures are expected to increase well into the 90s and low 100s across much of the region as humidity remains low. A Red Flag Warning -- meaning conditions are favorable for rapid spread on any new or existing fires -- is now in effect across much of the Cascades, while a Fire Weather Watch remains in effect through Thursday for the Puget Sound area, southwestern Washington and the foothills.

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