Ash and smoke are choking Seattle’s air for the second week in a row, as wildfires smolder in the Cascades and in British Columbia. The air quality in Seattle this week has been worse than in Beijing, one of the world’s most notoriously polluted cities.
As of Wednesday morning, the Air Quality Index in Seattle was at 190, a rating classified as “unhealthy.” In parts of the city, the index rose as high as 220, which is “very unhealthy.” Other parts of Puget Sound, like Port Angeles, Washington — 80 miles from Seattle — saw the AQI rise to 205 this week.
To put it in perspective, an AQI of 150 is roughly equal to smoking seven cigarettes in a day. People breathing air this unhealthy should avoid being outside and exerting themselves, particularly people with heart and lung problems, the elderly, and children. [Continue reading…]
Ask anyone who lived in Washington’s Wenatchee Valley in 2012 about the smoke that year, and they’ll remember. The fires were close and the valley’s dry hillsides trapped the wildfire smoke. It was so bad clinics and drug stores ran out of masks. The air was so choked with smoke that summer camps were canceled and children were kept inside.
Anastazia Burnett won’t forget that summer. More than once, asthma attacks drove her to the walk-in clinic for emergency treatment. At the time, she was newly pregnant with her first child.
It was scary, she remembers, “because, when your blood oxygen is low, your baby’s blood oxygen is low, too.”
Climate change is advancing. Snowpack is decreasing, and summers are hotter and drier. A century’s worth of fire suppression is leaving forests overloaded with fuel. All of that is creating the conditions for wildfires to spread quickly and widely and burn huge trees along with the underbrush. Fire seasons are now 105 days longer in the western U.S. than they were in the 1970s. And longer wildfire seasons means more smoke pouring into cities and towns. [Continue reading…]