Smoke clearing on North Olympic Peninsula

Air quality improves with westerly winds

Smoke from wildfires elsewhere fueled a rise into the zone of “unhealthy for sensitive groups” for most of the North Olympic Peninsula on Saturday, but by mid-afternoon Sunday, air quality in Clallam and Jefferson counties had improved to a “moderate” rating.

Port Townsend’s air quality might have dipped into the unhealthy range Saturday night-early Sunday morning, according to Jacob DeFlitch, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle, but it quickly cleared.

Neah Bay’s air quality cleared to a “good” rating by Sunday after having been affected by smoke from wildfires in Oregon and the Cascades to the point.

The Red Flag Warning that was put into place on Thursday was lifted for the Peninsula by Saturday night although it remained in place for the Cascades and other area east of the region.

“We will generally see real improvement tonight into tomorrow,” DeFlitch said Sunday. “There will be a slow improvement through tonight.”

Southerly and westerly winds coming off the Pacific are pushing wildfire smoke out of the area, he said.

DeFlitch expected the weather to be closer to normal by today and continue throughout the week, with clouds in the morning, clearing in the afternoon and temperatures in the 60s near the coasts and in the mid-70s farther inland.

The bulk of the smoke over the Peninsula was from the Bolt Creek Fire, which was sparked Saturday in the remote Stevens Pass area that sent hikers fleeing and forced evacuations of mountain communities.

The fire prompted the closure of Stevens Pass on U.S. Highway 2 on Saturday and led to evacuations for 300 to 400 homes. It was reported as dropping ash in Everett and blowing smoke into the suburbs of Seattle.

There was no containment Sunday of the fire, which had scorched nearly 12 square miles of forestland about an hour and a half east of Seattle.

The Goat Rocks Fire, south of Mount Rainier National Park, which was started by lightning, led to the closure of U.S. Highway 12 at White Pass and the evacuation of neighborhoods east of the city of Packwood on Saturday.

Evacuations were also issued for several communities in Cowlitz County in response to the Kalama fire in Gifford Pinchot National Forest southwest of Mount St. Helens.

A new wildfire was emerging Saturday just north of Skykomish along Highway 2 in the Washington Cascades.

These are among 18 wildfires that bloomed in Washington and Oregon.

Thick mid-level smoke from the Cedar Creek Fire in Oregon was pushed northward by shifting mid-level winds.

Wildfire smoke spews particulate matter of 2.5 micrometers (PM 2.5) and smaller into the air. Particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers are so fine that they can be inhaled and penetrate deeply into the lungs, aggravating heart and lung disease.

People with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children are advised to limit prolonged exertion when the air quality is in the unhealthy for sensitive groups range.

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Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].

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