Air quality continues to deteriorate as B.C. wildfire smoke fills Washington skies

    Satellite image shows smoke spread across Washington from several wildfires burning in the region (NOAA image)

    SEATTLE (KOMO) -- A thick, smoky haze from wildfires burning in British Columbia continued to blow into Washington on Wednesday, giving the skies an orange-brown tint and degrading the air quality.

    Air quality monitors with Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and the Washington Department of Ecology show widespread readings in the "moderate" category across Western Washington, with some spots down into the "unhealthy for sensitive groups" category in the Puget Sound region -- and even the "unhealthy" category along the Olympic Peninsula and north coast. A reading near Port Angeles had a reading of 158 mid Thursday morning. "Good" air quality is considered under 50.

    An Air Quality Alert remains in effect through noon Thursday for much of Western Washington -- including the Puget Sound region -- and may need to be extended if conditions don't change.

    MORE | Current Puget Sound Current Air Quality Readings | Washington Statewide Air Quality Readings | Current Air Quality Situation from Ecology Dept.

    The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency is also calling for a region-wide air quality burn ban until further notice. That means all outdoor burning is prohibited.

    "Sadly, statewide air quality is expected to vary between Moderate to Unhealthy at different times for the next several days," said Ranil Dhammapala with the Washington Department of Ecology. "Instances of Very Unhealthy air cannot be ruled out. Slight improvements can be expected during the daytime, poor air at night."

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

    Conditions are even worse in Eastern Washington where the smoke is thicker and there are widespread "unhealthy" readings. In Chelan County, emergency managers are making dust masks available to the community for those who are sensitive to the smoke:

    Dhammapala says the air quality over Washington is among the worst in the nation right now.

    The thick haze is also causing some minor delays at Sea-Tac Airport, where reduced visibilities are requiring air traffic controllers to space out planes a bit more.

    The smoke is blowing in from massive wildfires burning in central British Columbia. 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. The prevailing winds in July had blown the smoke toward the east, but the current heat wave has switched the upper level winds to the north/northeast, carrying the smoke south into Washington.

    And with the hot and dry weather pattern locked into place for the next several days, officials worry more wildfires are possible. Red Flag Warnings are in effect for the Cascades and Fire Weather Watches are in effect for much of the western Washington lowlands meaning wildfire conditions are critical and any sparked fire or existing fire will rapidly spread.

    Excessive Heat Warnings also remain in effect for the Puget Sound region, the Cascade foothills and Southwestern Washington as temperatures soar into the 90s this week.

    In the meantime, the smoke will continue to make for some dramatic sunsets and sunrises as the smoke particles help scatter out the shorter wavelength colors, leaving the reds and oranges to survive.

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