Air quality improving in Whatcom County despite wildfires

Air quality in Whatcom County has improved and was once again good as of the evening of Tuesday, July 7, as shown by three Northwest Clean Air Agency monitoring stations.

Wildfires just over the border in British Columbia and locally have been spewing smoke over the region since the weekend. That caused poor air quality in parts of the county, prompting the agency to issue a smoke advisory for Whatcom and Skagit counties earlier this week.

Officials monitoring the smoke and air flow said Monday the bad air was expected to stick around until the wind changed directions Friday and blew out the smoke.

Although the sky is still hazy — because it doesn’t take much pollution to reduce visibility — air quality has improved sooner than expected, according to the monitoring stations at Custer-Loomis near Lynden, Bellingham, Maple Falls and Mount Vernon.

A light wind coming from the south helped push some wildfire smoke north Tuesday morning, according to Katie Skipper, Northwest Clean Air Agency spokeswoman.

“The air quality is good for breathing,” Skipper said.

Before Tuesday morning, air quality had been fluctuating between very unhealthy, moderate, and unhealthy for sensitive groups (children, pregnant women, people with asthma) since Sunday in those areas.

The fires in B.C., which were the primary cause of poor air quality in the two counties, continued to burn Tuesday, but three of the four small wildfires in Whatcom County were under control.

More winds heading into the weekend might help clear out smoke for greater visibility.

“It’s probably going to be Friday before we see any difference,” Skipper said.

Meanwhile, she said, people should continue to check the air quality because conditions are expected to fluctuate, by going to the map provided by the state Department of Ecology and Northwest Clean Air Agency and follow state health guidelines for time spent outside.

Skipper said people should pay attention to how they’re feeling as well as check the air quality map because conditions may vary in different areas.

“We don’t have monitors everywhere,” she said.

Officials want residents to check because possible thunderstorms in the Cascades remain in the forecast for the next couple of days. And that could bring new fires caused by lightning strikes.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com.

Track air quality

Find air quality for Whatcom County by going online to nwcleanair.org.

The state health guidance for different air quality levels is also on the website.