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Summer of wildfires still affecting Whatcom air quality

A fire crew works a back fire along Morgan Valley Road near Lower Lake, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. Erratic winds fanned a wildfire burning through rugged hills in Northern California on Wednesday, pushing the flames across two counties and smoke as far north as Washington state.
A fire crew works a back fire along Morgan Valley Road near Lower Lake, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. Erratic winds fanned a wildfire burning through rugged hills in Northern California on Wednesday, pushing the flames across two counties and smoke as far north as Washington state. AP

Whatcom County residents should keep monitoring air quality as summer wildfires continue to burn and shifting winds continue to blow smoke in and out of the region.

It’s not something they’re likely used to doing.

“Our air quality is usually really good,” said Katie Skipper, spokeswoman for the Northwest Clean Air Agency.

Earlier this week, wind blew smoke from a Northern California fire and from the Mount Adams blaze into southern Washington, called the Cougar Creek fire, into Whatcom County. That dropped air quality in parts of the county into the moderate range, meaning it could affect people with asthma and other conditions.

“Trust your instincts,” Skipper said. “If people feel bothered by smoke, then they should take whatever steps they need to take to stay out of it.”

Air quality had improved and was back up to “good” as of Thursday afternoon, Aug. 13, according to four monitoring stations in Bellingham, Custer, Maple Falls and Mount Vernon. But all three in Whatcom County were on the line between good and moderate as of Thursday afternoon.

Smoke from the Cougar Creek fire is expected to affect the area through Thursday night, according to the Northwest Clean Air Agency. Then the wind will shift and air quality is expected to be good once again.

Rain in the forecast for Friday, which could total as much as half an inch, also would make the air better.

“That would help a lot,” Skipper said.

The state’s drought and record-breaking high temperatures have resulted in an early wildfire season that is stretching resources and turning the air hazy.

Wildfires down south and to the north in British Columbia also have worsened air quality in Whatcom County, prompting the agency to issue a smoke advisory in July.

The Department of Natural Resources, the state’s lead wildland firefighting agency, has been busy this summer. There have been 751 fires on DNR-protected lands, as of Aug. 11, with 628 of them caused by human activity.

By this same last year, the state had seen 565 fires, with 455 caused by people.

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

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