Ahh, fresh air — for awhile: State experts warn of smoke next week

PORT ANGELES — The Olympic Peninsula region saw a dramatic improvement in air quality from Wednesday to Thursday, but state officials warn conditions may deteriorate again early next week.

Smoky air is emanating from wildfires from the north in British Columbia and from the south.

The Olympic Region Clean Air Agency said on its website at https://www.orcaa.org/ that by 5 p.m. Thursday, air quality as measured in Port Angeles had a Washington Air Quality Advisory (WAQA) “good” score of 49, on a scale of 0-50, compared to Tuesday’s “very unhealthy” 223 and Wednesday’s “unhealthy” 184. By 5:30 p.m., the rating had crept into the “moderate” zone with a pollution score of 51.

ORCAA has monitoring stations in Clallam, Grays Harbor, Mason, Pacific, Thurston and Jefferson counties.

In Port Townsend, the reading was a “moderate” 70 Thursday compared to Tuesday “unhealthy” 170 and Wednesday’s unhealthy 157.

Cheeka Peak on the Makah Reservation stood Thursday at 30.

By Thursday, Port Townsend and Port Angeles had switched places for the worst air quality levels in ORCAA’s six-county region.

“I bet you can breathe deeply today,” Fran McNair, executive director the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency said Thursday afternoon.

“You are getting good wind coming in off the coast.”

The yellow, moderate level of air quality does not warrant public health concerns, McNair said.

“It’s all about air flow,” McNair said. “They’ll be green soon, too.”

The readings are at tinyurl.com/PDN-Quality.

The improved ratings meant pregnant mothers, children, the elderly and residents with respiratory problems such as asthma should feel comfortable being active outside and keeping their windows open, McNair said.

Smoky conditions are expected to return early next week, she said.

Air quality began worsening earlier this week due to growing fires in British Columbia and Western Washington, including the Maple Fire near the Hood Canal.

The smoke was trapped in Olympic Peninsula counties by a high pressure system in the Pacific that began dissipating late Wednesday afternoon.

Cheeka Peak, at 1,600 feet and east of Tyler Creek, initially had the worst readings in the region.

Smoke conditions also are expected to improve in the area of the Maple Fire, 4½ miles west of U.S. Highway 101 near Hamma Hamma on the Hood Canal.

Fire suppression crews from outside the area, including Clallam and Jefferson counties, have pitched in to squelch the blaze.

Fire officials said the fire, now 52 percent contained, is human-caused and under investigation, according to state Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Forest Service officials.

Ross McDowell, a Mason County emergency management official, said Maple Fire firefighters are pulling water out of Elk Lake to wet the ground to create humidity and slow the flames.

McDowell said he believed crews from Clallam and Jefferson counties were released from fire duty on Wednesday.

He said they were among 300 firefighters whose contribution have been “monumental” in limiting what had been a fast-growing blaze.

Much of the steep, rough terrain that’s burning is not accessible to bulldozers.

“We have to wait until we start getting some serious rain for it to be completely out,” McDowell said.

“It’s going to take some time for that to happen.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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