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It looked like we woke up on Tatooine Tuesday morning; is it OK if we breathe the air?

Sailboats make their way from Zuanich Point Park Tuesday in Bellingham. The smokey haze is caused by wildfires in British Columbia, as air quality conditions in Whatcom County range from “Good” to “Unhealthy for Sensitive Group.”
Sailboats make their way from Zuanich Point Park Tuesday in Bellingham. The smokey haze is caused by wildfires in British Columbia, as air quality conditions in Whatcom County range from “Good” to “Unhealthy for Sensitive Group.” eabell@bhamherald.com

Rather than waking up to the normal blinding sunlight streaming into your bedroom Tuesday morning, there was a dulled reddish glow. Outside, the sky looked like something out of a Star Wars set on a desert planet, and even now, the sun seems hidden in the haze.

And if you breathe deep enough, it smells like a distant campfire singeing your nose.

The Northwest Clean Air Agency issued a news release Monday, stating, “forecasts show (British Columbia ) wildfire smoke could impact Whatcom, Skagit and Island communities for the next few days. Air quality could be unhealthy at times in particular on Tuesday and Wednesday.”

According to data on the Washington State Air Monitoring site at 2 p.m. Tuesday, most of Whatcom County is still in the “Good” range, but the Maple Falls monitoring site had climbed into the Unhealthy for Sensitive Group range with a WAQA (Washington Air Quality Advisory) value of 140. The monitoring site on Yew Street in Bellingham, meanwhile had a rating of 22, the Custer site at Loomis registered 21 and both Ferndale sites (on Mountain View and Kickerville roads) registered a 1.

NWCAA Communication Program Manager Seth Preston cautioned that those numbers may continue to “creep” up Tuesday and Wednesday.

“People with breathing problems already face extra challenges from the wildfire smoke that nobody can control,” Preston said. “We encourage people to limit their activity outdoors and protect themselves any way they can, especially in those at-risk groups – young kids and people who already have breathing difficulties. And if you do have any problems, seek medical help and get some advice.”

The air quality will continue to be “spotty” throughout the county, Preston said, based on surrounding terrain and wind conditions.

The Washington State Department of Ecology echoed concerns on its Washington smoke blog, stating “Satellites show that large plumes have already crossed the northern border and will likely impact communities in Okanogan and Whatcom counties between now and Wednesday. Expect air quality to vary between Good and Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.”

Though some areas in central Washington have already been hit hard by smokey air, the good news, according to the site, is the smoke could offer some relief from the high temperatures predicted for this week.

Winds are expected to turn east Wednesday, according to Ecology, which should lessen the impact of the smoke in Whatcom County.

“That’s what we’re hoping, but we’ll have to see how it plays out,” Preston said. “There are so many variables that can’t be controlled, from the weather or the direction of the winds.”

Washington is not alone, as the Vancouver Sun reported that the air quality in Fraser Valley is rated “high risk,” and Environment Canada has issued air quality and weather advisories for metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, the Sunshine Coast and eastern Vancouver Island.

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