OMAK – If you think the air’s been thick enough to cut with a knife lately, you’re right.
Smoke from the Cold Springs Fire has been clogging the Okanogan Valley since early last week, when the fire ignited southeast of Omak on Cold Springs Road west of Omak Lake.
As of mid-afternoon Saturday, Sept. 12, Omak had a 174 air quality index reading, in the unhealthy range. By 8 p.m., the Omak reading was 467, with Twisp at 265 and Winthrop at 207.
Bad air quality continued into Sunday and Monday, with readings at 5:45 p.m. Sunday of 533 in Omak, 260 in Twisp and 252 in Winthrop, and 8 a.m. Monday at 410 in Omak, 231 in Twisp and 252 in Winthrop. Chelan had a 504 reading.
Most of the state had readings in the unhealthy to very unhealthy range, while a couple areas had air that was lung-clogging in the hazardous range.
Early Sept. 8, the state Department of Ecology reported hazardous air quality in the Omak area and unhealthy air quality in the Methow Valley.
The National Weather Service issued a hazardous weather outlook bulletin early Sunday morning, Sept. 13, because of widespread smoke.
Areas of Washington included in the alert were the Okanogan Highlands, Okanogan Valley, eastern slopes of the northern Cascades, Waterville Plateau, Wenatchee, upper Columbia Basin, Moses Lake, Spokane, northeast mountains of Washington, the Palouse, and lower Garfield and Asotin Counties.
In Idaho, the alert area included the northern panhandle-Coeur d’Alene, the Idaho Palouse, central panhandle mountains and Lewiston area, Lewis and southern Nez Perce counties, and northeast Blue Mountains of Idaho/Oregon,
A reprieve was possible Monday with potential for rain and breezes, said the weather service.
Okanogan County Public Health officials urge residents to take precautions because of wildfire smoke and hazardous air quality conditions.
Wildfire smoke can cause serious health problems, especially for at-risk people including children, pregnant women, adults older than 65, people with heart and lung diseases or respiratory illnesses, and people battling COVID-19.
“If you already have a heart or lung condition like asthma or COVID-19, breathing in wildfire smoke can make it worse,” said state Department of Ecology.
People should limit time spent outdoors in times of bad air quality, said the health district.
To improve indoor air quality, the Department of Ecology suggests keeping windows and doors closed; setting air conditioners to recirculate; not running a vacuum cleaner or using candles or smoke, and using a portable air cleaner with a HEPA filter.
“Close windows and doors when it’s smoky outside but open windows and let in fresh air when there’s better air quality outside,” said the department.
People should wear cloth face coverings to slow the spread of COVID-19, but such coverings don’t protect against smoke, ecology department officials said. Microscopic smoke particles can go right through cloth.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 10 has issued a ban on open burning for all Indian reservations in Oregon and Washington because of smoke from large wildfires.
The burn ban applies to all outdoor and agricultural burning — including camping and recreational fires — in all areas within external reservation boundaries regardless of ownership or tribal membership. Ceremonial and traditional fires are exempt from the ban.
EPA requests that reservation residents reduce all sources of air pollution as much as possible, including driving and idling of vehicles.