The smoke is here. Hazardous air quality in Seattle as wildfires rage
Dark skies and a thick blanket of smoky air hang over the area.
Update: Saturday, September 12, 4:30 p.m.
Cooler weather and decreasing wind has helped to slow the wildfires raging across the Northwest but the lack of wind has also helped trap a blanket of smoke over the Puget Sound region this weekend. On Saturday afternoon, The Puget Sound Clear Air Agency warned that the air quality will likely remain unhealthy through most of Sunday.
The worst air pollution was expected peak on Saturday in Western Washington, then winds will start to bring better air first to coastal areas before moving east, according to the Washington Smoke Blog. Public health officials urge residents to stay indoors with the windows shut and to use air purifiers if possible.
Rain in the Seattle weather forecast for Monday and Tuesday is also expected to improve conditions significantly.
Original story published September 11:
Air quality in Seattle has turned hazardous, the most severe rating, according to the state Department of Ecology.
Smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon made its way through Western Washington overnight Thursday, blown in by shifting winds from the southwest.
According to the National Weather Service, there could be some relief on Sunday as the onshore flow starts to clear the air.
Air quality in the Seattle area earlier on Friday was considered unhealthy for everyone, according to the state Department of Ecology.
"Unhealthy air quality means that everyone, especially sensitive groups, should limit time spent spent outdoors, avoid strenuous activities outdoors, and choose light indoor activities," the Weather Service said in a bulletin.
To encourage people to stay indoors, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said the city is closing its parks.
“Because of the air quality and the hazard that it presents to all of us, all Seattle parks, beaches, boat ramps and playfields will be closed through Sunday,” Durkan said at a Friday press conference. “We will not be issuing any citations, but we really please urge everybody to stay inside.”
Health officials warned that cloth masks do not protect users from the smoky, hazardous air caused by wildfires. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health Seattle & King County, said cloth masks are still recommended to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“However they provide very limited if any protection against the small particles that we’re concerned with in an air quality wildfire event,” he said.
He said N-95 masks are better at screening out small particles but are still in short supply and needed for healthcare workers and first responders.
Duchin said the best way to stay safe from the smoky air is to stay indoors with doors and windows shut. For people without shelter, local officials are trying to find indoor options that also minimize the spread of Covid-19.
King County Executive Dow Constantine said the county would open a warehouse in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood by Friday afternoon that had already been equipped as a “Covid recovery center.” That means it has good air filtration and no-touch hand-washing stations.
“We will welcome up to 77 people who are currently experiencing homelessness who need a safer place to stay as the air quality worsens,” Constantine said. “Each person will have their own space, separated by cloth partitions.”
But there are currently more than 5,000 people in King County estimated to be without shelter.
Durkan said they would work with providers to identify the most vulnerable people to give them access to the new beds. Officials said a lack of staffing is the biggest barrier to making more facilities available. They said the Salvation Army and the public health “reserve corps” will help staff the temporary Sodo shelter.