Fresh air might not last long
Saturday, September 15, 2012
WENATCHEE — Air quality improved significantly Saturday as a weak cold front moved through the area, moving out much of the thick smoke from Wenatchee Complex fires.
The weekend’s relative respite from toxic smoke, however, may not last. Some people got out Saturday to enjoy it before it’s gone.
“I am thrilled,” said Linda Haglund, executive director of the Wenatchee Downtown Association, as she walked along Wenatchee Avenue, closed off for the association’s Taste of Harvest Festival on Saturday. The downtown area was fairly busy with people enjoying festival entertainment in smoke-filtered sunshine.
“Yesterday was a bad day. If today had been like yesterday, the festival would have been called off,” Haglund said. “It’s mostly locals here today, but I’m pleasantly surprised at how many. I was hoping that it would clear up and we could give the community a reason to get out. We got that.”
East Wenatchee resident Casey West sat on the Wenatchee Avenue curb with a stack of face masks on her knee as she watched her two young boys play games in the street during the festival.
“We came out to see how it was, but brought our masks. We were very glad to see that it’s a lot better than yesterday,” said West.
Gray smoke lingered in the surrounding hills, but the sun seemed to be winning its war against the choking haze Saturday. That was definitely good news for firefighters, those suffering respiratory problems and pretty much everyone. Toxic smoke has choked the entire valley and much of the state the past week as dozens of fires burn out of control. Air quality index numbers for Wenatchee measured by the state Department of Ecology were “off the charts” in hazardous toxicity levels Friday, according to Ecology and health officials.
Conditions were at their worst Friday when people could be seen throughout the valley wearing smoke masks and dirty smoke dimmed mid day light to dusk levels. Some schools closed, many events were canceled or moved out of the area, smoke alarms went off. Road crews, apple and pear pickers worked with the added burden of heavy breathing and hot face masks.
Unfortunately, the weekend breath of fresh air may be only passing. The National Weather Service is forecasting more stagnant air at least through the coming week.
“We had a brief break, but that’s it. Enjoy it while you can,” said Paul Bos, forecaster for Weather Service’s regional office in Spokane. A weak weather system should keep the skies relatively clear Sunday, but calmer winds starting Monday will likely trap smoke that will continue to billow from local fires.
“The Wenatchee area has a lot of valleys that are deep and narrow that trap cold air that holds down the smoke. It takes strong winds to scour it out,” he said.
Strong winds are not in the forecast for the next week. The Weather Service issued a weather advisory Saturday stating that air quality is likely to deteriorate starting Monday through the week due to smoke and stagnant air. The advisory listed Wenatchee, Chelan, Cashmere, Entiat, Quincy and the Waterville Plateau as affected areas.
Chelan-Douglas Health District sent out an advisory Saturday recommending people avoid going outside if possible. If you have to go outside, the Health District is still urging you to take it easy (skip mowing the grass, don’t exercise) and recommends you wear an N-95 mask or a p-100 painter’s mask. Dust masks and bandanas won’t cut it, although they’re better than nothing.
The best advice: Stay inside and keep the doors and windows closed. If you’re driving, keep the window up and the A/C on recycle. If you are getting headaches, dizziness or nausea or having increased respiratory symptoms, consider leaving the area until the smoke clears.
The biggest health threat comes from the fine particles in smoke, according to the Department of Ecology, which issued its own advisory for Chelan County Saturday. Fine particles in smoke can cause burning eyes, runny nose, bronchitis and other illnesses. Smoky air also can aggravate heart and lung diseases, and even lead to death. Sensitive people including children and people with heart and lung conditions should protect themselves as much as possible from breathing smoky air.
Rick Steigmeyer: 664-7151
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