Published September 14, 2012
South Sound air quality forecast to keep improving into SaturdayJOHN DODGE
South Sound air quality began to improve Friday afternoon, and was expected to continue to do so Saturday in the absence of easterly winds from fire- and smoke-ravaged Eastern Washington. Air quality at an Olympic Region Clean Air Agency monitoring station in Lacey improved to moderate, compared with unhealthy for sensitive people Thursday and early Friday. The air quality also was on the mend in Shelton, but it still registered unhealthy Friday afternoon for infants, children, seniors and those with lung and heart disease. “We’re seeing some improvement, but expect even more improvement on Saturday,” said ORCAA air-quality specialist Jimmy Werner. However, Werner said, air pollution from small particles of smoke generated by Eastern Washington wildfires could be a factor again next week if the easterly winds return as expected, and the fires are not brought under control. The National Weather Service described the onshore flow of marine air Friday as weak and shallow, not strong enough to quickly scrub the air clean over South Sound. “Given the absence of east winds, it is unlikely that smoke will make it across the Cascades into Western Washington Saturday or on Saturday,” state Department of Ecology officials said Friday afternoon. The hazy skies that covered the South Sound region Thursday and Friday should begin to clear Saturday. Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency Friday in all counties east of the Cascades. The proclamation deploys air support from the Washington National Guard to assist firefighters trying to contain the fires throughout Eastern Washington. National Guard helicopters capable of delivering 600 gallons to 2,000 gallons of water are likely to be deployed. Fires burning on the east side of the state threatened some 500 homes as of Friday afternoon. “Firefighters … need more resources – especially as we expect weather conditions to remain less than favorable,” the governor said. Smoke from the lightning-caused wildfires that erupted across Eastern Washington last weekend has turned air quality hazardous in Wenatchee, very unhealthy in Clarkston and unhealthy in Rizville, Pullman and LaCrosse. Wenatchee and Chelan should see some clearing late Saturday, but it could be Sunday evening before the Columbia River basin starts to flush out the bad air, according to Ecology. Meanwhile, the fire danger remains high in Western Washington. On Friday, the Weyerhaeuser Co. closed public access to its timberlands, including the Vail Tree Farm in Thurston County, because of extreme fire danger. The company’s timberlands in Washington and Oregon won’t reopen until temperatures cool and rainfall eases the fire threat. Green Diamond Resource Co. placed its 320,000 acres of forestland in Thurston, Mason and Grays Harbor counties off-limits to the public for the same reason Sept. 12.