Air quality improving, burn ban in effect

The sun is obscured by smoke from forest fires in Eastern Washington and British Columbia as seen from Chuckanut Drive in Skagit County on Aug. 1.
The sun is obscured by smoke from forest fires in Eastern Washington and British Columbia as seen from Chuckanut Drive in Skagit County on Aug. 1. AP

Bellingham’s air quality was back to moderate Friday – but still unhealthy for people with heightened sensitivities – after moving up to the unhealthy category Thursday. Air is forecast to move from moderate to good conditions Saturday, according to Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow.

At 11 a.m. Friday, the Washington state Department of Ecology’s Air Monitoring site shows Yew Street in Bellingham registering air quality levels better Friday – a Washington Air Quality Advisory value of 111, still under the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” category, but down from Thursday’s “unhealthy” value of 160.

Air quality in Custer is listed as moderate. The monitoring site in Maple Falls continues to be categorized as “unhealthy.”

The National Weather Service predicts smoke from wildfires in British Columbia will remain over Western Washington until at least Saturday.

On Thursday, the Whatcom County Healthy Department advised residents to check air quality conditions before engaging in outdoor activities, warning that the air quality at the Bellingham and Columbia Valley/Maple Falls monitoring stations had air quality rated “unhealthy.” The department advised that people keep indoor air clean by keeping windows and doors closed.

A Stage 2 complete burn ban which started Aug. 2 for all unincorporated parts of the county remains in effect until further notice. The ban includes yard debris, land clearing and recreational fires. Commercial charcoal and propane grills, as well as portable fire rings, are still allowed as long as they’re 15 feet away from trees, structures and other combustible vegetation, according to the Whatcom County Burn Information Line. Violation of the ban could result in a minimum fine of $250.

If conditions improve, campfires may be allowed later in the summer, said Mitch Nolze, a fire inspector for the Whatcom County Fire Marshal’s office.

The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest restricted open campfires in the forest Friday, except in designated developed campgrounds. Wood and charcoal fires are only allowed in developed and group campgrounds that have established concrete or steel-grated fire pits or rings, according to a news release from the U.S. Forest Service. All open campfires, including charcoal briquettes, cooking and warming fires are prohibited. The restrictions will be in place until Sept. 30.

“Even where campfires are permitted, the fire and any source of flame, should be totally extinguished and cool to the touch before leaving the campsite,” said Tracy O’Toole, community engagement officer for the U.S. Forest Service.

There is also a burn ban on all state Department of Natural Resources protected lands, including all outdoor burning and campfires, other than those in staffed or hosted campgrounds.

Temperatures throughout the weekend are expected to remain warm, with no rain in the forecast over the next seven days.

Saturday is expected to be sunny, but smokey, with highs in the mid-70s to low 80s. Sunday will also be sunny with highs around the upper 70s to mid 80s, said Johnny Burg, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Evening temperatures are expected to be cooler.

Denver Pratt: 360-715-2236, @DenverPratt