PORT ANGELES — A vise of smoky air Wednesday continued to grip the Olympic Peninsula as wildfires raged to the north in British Columbia and to the south near Hamma Hamma, along the Hood Canal.
Air-quality levels seesawed through the day in Clallam County’s largest city — Port Angeles — from an Olympic Clean Air Agency very-unhealthy level in the morning to unhealthy by late afternoon at 184, still near the top end of the 151-200 unhealthy scale.
Port Townsend remained at an unhealthy level of air quality that persisted Wednesday, although it was lower on the scale, standing at 157 as it inched toward the unhealthy-for-sensitive-groups category at 150.
All day Wednesday, Port Angeles recorded the poorest air quality score among ORCAA’s eight regional stations in Jefferson, Grays Harbor, Mason, Pacific, Pacific, Thurston and Clallam counties, including Cheeka Peak, in the Neah Bay ZIP code area and located on the Makah reservation, where air quality also has been as poor as that in Port Angeles.
Port Angeles’ air monitoring station sits atop the Port Angeles Fire Station roof on East Fifth Street four blocks from the downtown core.
The readings are at tinyurl.com/PDN-Quality.
North Olympic Peninsula residents were urged Wednesday by agency Executive Director Fran McNair to avoid spending time outside.
She and Farren Herron-Thorpe, a state Department of Ecology air quality program emissions scientist, predicted some respite from the smoke in coming days.
Smoky conditions could persist next week though they might not be as bad as they have been.
The warning on being active especially applies to those at health risk, including pregnant women, children, the elderly and people with respiratory or heart disease.
The region, like much of the state, is getting hit with wildfire smoke from the south and the north.
“We may get a day of relief, but we’re in it for the long haul for smoke, I’m afraid, until they get a handle on these fires,” McNair said.
“The good news is, it may not be hot in a week or so.”
Climate change is a factor contributing to the bad air quality, as well as hot, dry conditions, McNair said.
“We’ve got to realize this is our future,” she said.
Olympic Medical Center’s emergency room saw an increase Monday and Tuesday in patients with a variety of respiratory problems, OMC spokeswoman Bobby Beeman said Tuesday in an email.
Information was unavailable on OMC’s patient flow Wednesday.
Much of Washington is in a National Weather Service air-quality alert.
Before dropping, Port Angeles recorded a 194 rating in the 151-200 unhealthy range by mid-Wednesday afternoon compared to Port Townsend’s 161, both still lower than Tuesday’s readings.
Officials from Jefferson Healthcare did not return calls for comment Tuesday and Wednesday on the impact of the county’s unhealthy air quality on patient intake.
“Mostly, people are getting used to this to the extent that they consult us through our website,” Jefferson County Health Officer Tom Locke said Wednesday.
The British Columbia government declared a state of emergency Wednesday due to the 566 wildfires burning, which also prompted 29 evacuation orders affecting more than 3,000 people.
“This is the second year in a row our neighbors to the north have been inundated with fire and smoke and some of that smoke has been heading south to Washington and beyond,” according to the wasmoke.blogspot.com, hosted by county, state, tribal and federal agencies.
Dr. Allison Berry Unthank is Clallam County’s new health officer who succeeded Dr. Christopher Frank.
She urged residents Wednesday to stay indoors with the windows closed if temperatures allow it and to not exert themselves outdoors, much less go outdoors.
“People should take these kinds of precautions at least for the next week,” Unthank said.
A family physician at the Jamestown S’Klallam clinic, she said she’s seen an increase in visits by patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.
Herron-Thorpe said a patch of smoke from British Columbia’s fires was hanging over the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Vancouver Island and the Washington Peninsula.
“I think we are seeing the worst of it, and it will only get better from here through the day and tomorrow,” he said.
“There’s definitely a potential for things to get smoky again come Sunday and next week.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].