Heavy smoke from wildfires in Oregon and California has reached Western Washington and is expected to linger through the weekend, making for unhealthy air conditions.
Western Washington, including Skagit County, is under an air quality alert through 11 a.m. Monday, according to a Friday alert from the National Weather Service.
Air quality in Skagit County was “unhealthy for everyone” as of Friday morning, according to the Washington’s Air Quality Advisory program. The tool measures fine-particle pollution in the air that poses a health risk.
Everyone, especially sensitive groups, should limit time spent outdoors, avoid strenuous outdoor activities, and choose light indoor activities, according to the state Department of Ecology.
Sensitive groups include those with asthma, diabetes, heart and lung diseases, respiratory illnesses and colds, stroke survivors, pregnant women, smokers, those under 18 and those over 65.
Breathing wildfire smoke can cause coughing and wheezing, watery or dry eyes, phlegm, throat and sinus irritation, headaches, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat and chest pain.
As people retreat indoors to escape bad air quality, the risk of spreading COVID-19 increases. The state Department of Health (DOH) has advised that people stay inside with just members of their households to protect themselves from smoke and the virus.
The DOH advises keeping indoor air clean by closing windows and doors to keep smoke out, and reopening them for fresh air when air quality improves.
Air quality is expected to worsen during overnight hours.
On Sunday, air quality is expected to slowly start to improve throughout Western Washington, according to the Washington Smoke Blog, a partnership between state, county, federal agencies and tribes.
The region may see rain by late Monday or early Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.
The Northwest Clean Air Agency has implemented an air quality burn ban — which is separate from fire safety burn bans — in Skagit, Island and Whatcom counties to reduce additional smoke throughout the region.
During the ban, recreational fires, including campfires and those in fire pits, and residential and agricultural burning, are prohibited. Home heating within fireplaces and uncertified wood stoves is also banned.
Cloth or surgical masks that slow the spread of COVID-19 don’t block smaller particles in wildfire smoke that may be harmful to health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. N95 respirators offer protection against wildfire smoke, but they may be in short supply because they are used by health care workers.