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caption: Air quality in Seattle has turned hazardous according to the state Department of Ecology, as wildfire smoke from California and Oregon continues to settle in the area. Here, a worker walks through Balmer Yard on Saturday, September 12, 2020, in Seattle. 
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Air quality in Seattle has turned hazardous according to the state Department of Ecology, as wildfire smoke from California and Oregon continues to settle in the area. Here, a worker walks through Balmer Yard on Saturday, September 12, 2020, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

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.”

Officials said people shouldn’t assume the air is safe just because the skies seem clearer. They recommended checking with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency website or the website AirNow.gov.

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.

caption: Gas Works Park is shown shrouded in smoke from wildfires burning in Oregon and California, on Saturday, September 12, 2020, in Seattle.
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Gas Works Park is shown shrouded in smoke from wildfires burning in Oregon and California, on Saturday, September 12, 2020, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
caption: A sign at Ray's Boathouse lights up on Friday, September 11, 2020, as smoke from wildfires burning in Oregon and California clouds the air, in Seattle.
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A sign at Ray's Boathouse lights up on Friday, September 11, 2020, as smoke from wildfires burning in Oregon and California clouds the air, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
caption: Air quality in Seattle has turned hazardous according to the state Department of Ecology, as wildfire smoke from California and Oregon continues to settle in the area. Here, Balmer Yard is shown at sunrise on Saturday, September 12, 2020, in Seattle.
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Air quality in Seattle has turned hazardous according to the state Department of Ecology, as wildfire smoke from California and Oregon continues to settle in the area. Here, Balmer Yard is shown at sunrise on Saturday, September 12, 2020, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
caption: Homes in Magnolia are shrouded in smoke from wildfires in Oregon and California on Saturday morning, September 12, 2020, in Seattle.
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Homes in Magnolia are shrouded in smoke from wildfires in Oregon and California on Saturday morning, September 12, 2020, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
caption: The sun rises over Seattle as a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon makes it's way into the area on Friday, September 11, 2020, in Seattle.
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The sun rises over Seattle as a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon makes it's way into the area on Friday, September 11, 2020, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
caption: The sun rises over Seattle as a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon made it's way into the area, on Friday, September 11, 2020, in Seattle.
Enlarge Icon
The sun rises over Seattle as a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon made it's way into the area, on Friday, September 11, 2020, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
caption: The sun rises over Seattle as a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon made it's way into the area, on Friday, September 11, 2020, in Seattle.
Enlarge Icon
The sun rises over Seattle as a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon made it's way into the area, on Friday, September 11, 2020, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
caption: The sun rises over Seattle as a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon makes it's way into the area on Friday, September 11, 2020.
Enlarge Icon
The sun rises over Seattle as a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon makes it's way into the area on Friday, September 11, 2020.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
caption: Cyclists ride along Harbor Avenue Southwest as the sun rises over a smokey Seattle on Friday, September 11, 2020. A massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon made it's way into the area overnight on Thursday.
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Cyclists ride along Harbor Avenue Southwest as the sun rises over a smokey Seattle on Friday, September 11, 2020. A massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon made it's way into the area overnight on Thursday.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
caption: The sun comes up over Seattle as a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon made it's way into the area, on Friday, September 11, 2020, in Seattle.
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The sun comes up over Seattle as a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon made it's way into the area, on Friday, September 11, 2020, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
caption: Biker crossing the street in Seattle September 10, 2020
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Biker crossing the street in Seattle September 10, 2020
Credit: KUOW/JUAN PABLO CHIQUIZA
caption: Sunset in Seattle September 10, 2020
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Sunset in Seattle September 10, 2020
Credit: KUOW/ JUAN PABLO CHIQUIZA
caption: People photograph a smoke covered downtown Seattle as a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon made it's way into the area on Friday, September 11, 2020, at Kerry Park in Seattle.
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People photograph a smoke covered downtown Seattle as a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon made it's way into the area on Friday, September 11, 2020, at Kerry Park in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
caption: A ship heads toward Seattle as a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon clouds the sky on Friday, September 11, 2020, in Seattle.
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A ship heads toward Seattle as a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon clouds the sky on Friday, September 11, 2020, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
caption: Downtown Seattle is shrouded with smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon on Friday, September 11, 2020.
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Downtown Seattle is shrouded with smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon on Friday, September 11, 2020.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
caption: The Space Needle, shown from Kerry Park, is shrouded in a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon on Friday, September 11, 2020, in Seattle.
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The Space Needle, shown from Kerry Park, is shrouded in a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon on Friday, September 11, 2020, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
caption: Vehicles travel across the Aurora Bridge as a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon makes it's way into the area, on Friday, September 11, 2020, in Seattle.
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Vehicles travel across the Aurora Bridge as a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon makes it's way into the area, on Friday, September 11, 2020, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
caption: A ferry arrives in downtown Seattle as heavy smoke from wildfires burning in Oregon and California clouds the air on on Friday, September 11, 2020, in Seattle.
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A ferry arrives in downtown Seattle as heavy smoke from wildfires burning in Oregon and California clouds the air on on Friday, September 11, 2020, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
caption: Kathalina Hoffman, left, and Brian Muoneke, right, look toward downtown Seattle as a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon made it's way into the area on Friday, September 11, 2020, at Kerry Park in Seattle.
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Kathalina Hoffman, left, and Brian Muoneke, right, look toward downtown Seattle as a massive plume of smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon made it's way into the area on Friday, September 11, 2020, at Kerry Park in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer


caption: View of Lake Washington from Laurelhurst in Seattle. September 11, 2020
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View of Lake Washington from Laurelhurst in Seattle. September 11, 2020
Credit: KUOW/ JUAN PABLO CHIQUIZA


caption: View of the Space Needle from the EMP, September 11, 2020
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View of the Space Needle from the EMP, September 11, 2020
Credit: KUOW/ JUAN PABLO CHIQUIZA


caption: Worker in Seattle September 11, 2020
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Worker in Seattle September 11, 2020
Credit: KUOW/ JUAN PABLO CHIQUIZA


caption: View from NE 45th to I-5 downtown Seattle September 12, 2020
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View from NE 45th to I-5 downtown Seattle September 12, 2020
Credit: KUOW/ JUAN PABLO CHIQUIZA


caption: View from Gaslight park to downtown Seattle, September 12, 2020
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View from Gaslight park to downtown Seattle, September 12, 2020
Credit: KUOW/ JUAN PABLO CHIQUIZA