Rain, winds scour out wildfire smoke, and Seattle air quality returns to normal

©The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — After breathing more than a week’s worth of unhealthy air caused by wildfires, Western Washington residents were able to breathe clean air again Saturday morning after a rainstorm and westerly winds scoured out the smoke.

Air quality monitors across the western side of the state displayed green dots, showing the air quality was good. Smoke forecasters said the east side of the state should clear up by late Saturday.

“All the sensors, just about every single sensor in Western Washington, is good air quality, so that’s a relief,” Mike McFarland, meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Seattle, said Saturday.

“Open up those windows, Seattle — the air is fresh and clean!” the Seattle Weather Blog tweeted.

The region received a trace to an inch of rain over the 24-hour period that ended at 7 a.m. Saturday, McFarland said. That rain, combined with a switch from southerly winds to westerly winds, cleared the smoke out of the sky. For a change, visibility was low because of fog rather than smoke.

The end of smoky skies capped an extraordinary stretch where “the number of people exposed to very unhealthy or worse air quality for a week or more is practically off the charts compared to 2018, 2017, or 2015,” wrote Andrew Wineke, spokesman for the state Department of Ecology, in a post on the Washington smoke blog.

Ecology researcher Beth Friedman found that more than 6 million Washington residents were exposed to very unhealthy or worse quality air for five to nine days, according to the blog.

McFarland said fall weather is on its way, with a front arriving on the coast Tuesday night and bringing rain and breezy weather across the entire region by Wednesday. Another front arrives Friday.

The rain was welcome relief for lungs, and it also dampened fire activity. “Precipitation and increased humidity across the region kept potential fire activity low,” the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, which coordinates regional firefighting activities, posted on its blog. “Growth on existing large fires was minimal.”

In Washington, firefighters are still battling a number of major blazes, including:

— Cold Springs fire, 189,923 acres, 3 miles south of Omak, 90% contained.

— Big Hollow fire, 24,788 acres 15 miles northwest of Carson, 35% contained.

— Inchelium Complex, 19,399 acres 1 mile north of Inchelium, 70% contained.

— Cold Creek fire, 610 acres, 38 miles west of Yakima, 12% contained.

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©2020 The Seattle Times