Department of Ecology News Release - October 12, 2012

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Rain brings hope of relief, but smoke still impacting air quality in some areas

OLYMPIA — Light rain is falling this morning (Friday, Oct. 12, 2012) and winds are picking up in areas of Western Washington, but some communities east of the Cascade Mountains continue to be impacted by wildfire smoke.

Trout Lake was experiencing “hazardous” air quality during the morning hours, mostly due to strong smoke impacts from nearby wildfires. Monitors showed the air in Cashmere, Entiat, Wenatchee, Ellensburg, Toppenish, Rosalia, Pullman, and Maple Falls was “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” Other monitors across the state reported a mixture of “good” and “moderate” air quality.

Winds are expected to increase this afternoon in Eastern Washington and help disperse smoke. Increasing winds will precede any precipitation, so it is likely that there will be areas of windblown dust around the Columbia Basin today. Some patchy, light rain is possible in Eastern Washington on Saturday with more rain Sunday through Monday.

“We can expect a trend toward improving air quality through Monday just about everywhere in Washington state. Models suggest that the Lewis-Clark Valley might be the last to clear out, as winds may not immediately penetrate down into the valley,” said Ranil Dhammapala, a forecaster for the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology).

Though rains won’t entirely put out wildfires in Eastern Washington or central Idaho, the threat of persistent smoke will ease for the next several days.

Even wildfires that are contained by firefighters can still produce smoke for weeks. The smoke can easily remain trapped close to the ground and impact nearby communities. Wildfires in central Idaho have been pouring smoke into area valleys for weeks. Easterly winds – though not expected in the immediate future – could transport the smoke into the Palouse and Lewis-Clark Valley, as they did Thursday.

While wildfire smoke is expected to decrease, smoke from burning wood to heat homes likely will increase as temperatures drop this time of year. People who use wood stoves or other wood-burning devices to heat their homes should always burn clean, dry wood and follow proper burning techniques. Never burn garbage – it’s illegal.

To protect people from wood smoke, Ecology and local clean air agencies issue bans on use of wood-burning devices when air quality degrades. Check Washington's burn bans website to see if burn bans have been issued in your area.

The National Weather Service's Air Quality Alert for Douglas, Chelan and Kittitas Counties expires at noon today.

The Governor’s burn ban covering all Washington counties expires at midnight Monday. The Governor’s proclamation allows local fire departments to issue written permits that approve specific burning activities.  Please work with your local fire jurisdiction and your Ecology burn team staff to get the needed written authorization for specific agricultural burns. In some areas, air quality concerns or local fire danger may preclude burning during this extraordinary wildfire event.

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Media Contact: Seth Preston, Ecology communications manager, cell 360-584-5744; email seth.preston@ecy.wa.gov .

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