Department of Ecology News Release - September 10, 2012
Wildfires producing smoke in areas of Eastern Washington
OLYMPIA – More than 100 lightning-sparked wildfires are producing potentially
harmful smoke in areas of Central and Eastern Washington.
Over the weekend, lightning strikes ignited fires along the east slopes of
the Cascade Mountains and into the interior of Eastern Washington. Crews from
the U.S. Forest Service and the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
are battling the blazes.
Wildfires produce plenty of harmful smoke. The biggest threat to people’s
health comes from the fine particles in smoke. These tiny particles can get into
your eyes and lungs, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes,
runny nose and illness such as bronchitis. Fine particles also can aggravate
heart and lung diseases, and even lead to death.
Weather influences how severe smoke impacts may be. If the air is stagnant,
the concentration of fine particles increases in the air locally. If winds are
blowing, they can move smoke rapidly to areas hundreds of miles downwind from a
When smoke and fine particle levels are high enough, even healthy people may
be affected. To protect yourself, it’s important to limit your exposure to smoke
– especially if you are susceptible. Here are some steps you can take:
- The Washington State Department of Health recommends that people who are
sensitive to air pollution limit the time that they spend outdoors when
smoke is in the air.
- Children also are more susceptible to smoke because:
- Their respiratory systems are still developing.
- They breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight
- They’re more likely to be active outdoors.
- Pay attention to air quality reports. The Washington Air Quality
is the tool that that the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) uses to
inform people about the health effects of air pollution. WAQA includes
information about ground-level ozone, fine particles and carbon monoxide.
WAQA is very similar to the EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI). Both use
color-coded categories to show when air quality is good, moderate or
unhealthy. The difference is that WAQA shows that air quality is unhealthy
when there are fewer particles in the air.
- Use common sense. WAQA and AQI may not have immediate information on
conditions in your specific area. If it looks and smells smoky outside, it’s
probably not a good time to go for a jog, mow the lawn or allow children to
- If you have asthma or other lung disease, follow your doctor’s
directions on taking medicines and following your asthma management plan.
Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
- If you have heart or lung disease, if you are an older adult, or if you
have children, talk with your doctor about whether and when you should leave
the area. When smoke is heavy for a prolonged period of time, fine particles
can build up indoors even though you may not see them.
- Turn air-conditioning units to “recycle” mode so they don’t draw in
- Don’t think that paper “comfort” or “dust masks” are the answer. The
kinds of masks that you commonly can buy at the hardware store are designed
to trap large particles, such as sawdust. But they generally will not
protect your lungs from the fine particles in smoke.
Quality Advisory (WAQA) (https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/enviwa/Default.ltr.aspx)
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