Smoky air conditions improve in parts of Whatcom County

Firefighters walk past a water holding tank, left, as firefighters in the background douse lingering embers on Saturday.
Firefighters walk past a water holding tank, left, as firefighters in the background douse lingering embers on Saturday. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Even as a wildfire burning in the Chuckanut Mountains south of Bellingham is all but extinguished, smoke from several Canadian forest fires continues to plague Whatcom County with unhealthy air that may linger until at least midweek.

Air quality conditions in Bellingham were “unhealthy for sensitive groups” Monday afternoon, while readings at two Ferndale monitoring stations were “good,” the Custer station was “moderate” and Maple Falls air remained “unhealthy,” according to the state Department of Ecology’s website.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service is predicting the smoky air in Western Washington to begin dissipating by Wednesday. Winds changed direction last week, sending smoke from dozens of large forest fires in south-central British Columbia south to Whatcom County.

A slight change in wind direction over the weekend was enough to ease the haze slightly, but not enough to scour the air clean, said meteorologist Gary Schneider at the National Weather Service in Seattle.

“It wasn’t a strong push and it wasn’t enough to clean the air. I’d expect that later this week. Maybe Wednesday or Thursday,” Schneider said.

artist point
Smoke from wildfires in British Columbia on Friday afternoon obscures what’s normally a sweeping vista of Mount Shuksan and the North Cascades high peaks from Artist Point at the east end of the Mount Baker Highway. Robert Mittendorf rmittendorf@bhamherald.com

In the Chuckanut Mountains, wildland firefighters from several local, state and federal agencies are finishing work on a wildfire that started last Tuesday afternoon, burning about 48 acres at a site 6 miles southeast of the Lost Lake parking area at Larrabee State Park.

It’s called the Burnout Road Fire for its proximity to a trail of the same name, and is fully contained but not extinguished, said Michael Krueger, public information officer for the incident. No injuries have been reported, and its cause remains under investigation.

Cost of the fire had not been calculated, but could run about $500,000, Krueger said. Highest costs include helicopter air drops and fixed-wing aircraft that were used last week.

On Monday, firefighters were using handheld infrared cameras to find embers in the ground that must be dug out or doused with water.

“Some of those can be down two, three feet,” Krueger said. “You have to get down to where the roots have been lying for years.”

Some 200,000 gallons of water have been poured on the fire, half of that amount in air drops, he added.

Krueger said the fire burned state Department of Natural Resources land and portions of a private timber plantation with young trees. He was uncertain of the cost to that landowner.

South Whatcom Fire Authority provided these photos and video from the firefighting effort on the Burnout Road Fire in the Chuckanut Mountains south of Bellingham, Washington on Wednesday, August 2.

About 100 firefighters remained Monday, down from about 150. Crews have been using Fairhaven Middle School in Bellingham as a staging area.

Krueger said firefighting operations will mostly be done by Tuesday. After that, crews will restore the area as much as possible to its original condition, and repair roads that were damaged.

The Bellingham Herald reporter Robert Mittendorf is a volunteer firefighter at South Whatcom Fire Authority, one of several fire agencies working at the Burnout Road Fire.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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