Bellaniy Baltazar, 13, rubs her eyes while swimming on Wednesday, August 15, 2018, at Lakeside Park in Chelan. Tap or click on the first image to see more. 
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Bellaniy Baltazar, 13, rubs her eyes while swimming on Wednesday, August 15, 2018, at Lakeside Park in Chelan. Tap or click on the first image to see more.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

PHOTOS: 'Mad Max' smokescape envelops Washington state

The sky is ash gray; the lake is too.

Wenatchee and Chelan, popular summer destinations for middle class Seattleites, look like the end of the world right now. Like sets from the movie “Mad Max,” as smoke from nearby wildfires engulfs the area.

The air quality index reached 342 here on Wednesday. On air quality maps, that’s deep red, code for hazardous.

"That area from Wenatchee to Chelan is really the worst part of the state in terms of smoke impacts," said Farren Herron-Thorpe, a Natural Resource Scientist with the Washington Department of Ecology.

“Certainly most of the smoke in Wenatchee is coming from those nearby wildfires," Herron-Thorpe said, referring to the Cougar Creek fire and the Crescent Mountain fire. “We did have a lot of Canadian smoke that basically covered the whole state. There’s still quite a bit of that smoke that has been lingering around as well.”

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Herron-Thorpe added: "It's hazardous anyway you look at it. Even healthy people will have trouble breathing."

The air was cleaner in Mumbai, India, and Beijing, two cities known for having air pollution. In Seattle, the air was so smoky it was deemed “very unhealthy.” Children were kept indoors and told not to play too hard.

"This is one more piece of evidence that climate change is happening," said Dan Jaffe, a professor at University of Washington-Bothell.

Air quality has improved over the last decades because of environmental regulations. But quality has worsened in recent years because of particulates from wildfires, especially in the West. And it's getting worse, Jaffe said.

In eastern Washington, people went about their business, often because work required it.

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Some wore masks, like Nikk Johnson, a city worker for Wenatchee, who was installing detection software for traffic cameras at the intersection of North Wenatchee Ave and Duncan Road North.

“Without the mask, it’s pretty bad for me. I have asthma,” Johnson said. “Anything real strenuous, I start to notice it."

"A little weezy, a little coughy. They provide us with masks, and we’re able to stay somewhat safe when it comes to the smoke. It’s been pretty crappy for a few days now.”