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The smoke in Seattle: How bad is it and how long will it last?

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Smoke is making a brief return

Dan Lewis/Shutterstock

This article has been updated multiple times with the most current information.

Because of widespread wildfires around the northwest—coming from multiple directions due to fires in British Columbia, Oregon, California, and even in our own Washington State backyard—the weather report for August has included a lot of smoke.

Here in Seattle, the smoke has largely cleared, but we’re not totally out of the woods yet.

How bad is the smoke?

The smoke is much better than it’s been over the past couple of weeks—the air quality is shifting around between “good” and “moderate.” It just might flicker a little more toward the bad side of things over the next day or so.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE)’s monitoring stations are showing the air quality in Seattle as pretty split between “good” and “moderate.” The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows Seattle’s air quality as “moderate.”

How long will the smoke last? What’s the smoke forecast?

After a few blissful, mostly smoke-free days, the smoke is forecasted to roll back in on Wednesday, according to the DOE. Still, it shouldn’t be as bad as it was last week—the Washington Smoke Blog (a collaborative effort between the DOE, the DOH, the National Forest Service, plus county governments and Indian tribes) said Tuesday that it shouldn’t get worse than “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

This is not great for people with heart or lung conditions (or people generally sensitive to smoke), but it doesn’t start veering toward the “very unhealthy” air we were getting before. Regardless, said the DOE, air quality should be in the “good” range again by Thursday.

This tracks with the EPA’s forecast, which says the incoming smoke is from Vancouver Island. After Wednesday, according to the EPA, conditions should be “good” to “moderate” through Friday.

We could start to see little blips of smoke like this until we get a decent amount of rain.

“Real talk: Wildfires are burning all around us,” the Seattle chapter tweeted on Friday morning. “Until we see substantial rainfall, we’re going to continue to see some smoke from time to time. Just how much and how bad will depend on fire activity and wind direction.”

What does that mean for me?

According to the DOE, “moderate” conditions mean that “people with health conditions should limit spending any time outdoors and avoid strenuous outdoor activities. They may begin to have worsened symptoms.”

With “good” air, you’re in the clear.

If you’re still feeling the effects of smoke, Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has even more detailed recommendations of how to proceed. The DOH also has a guide to picking out a mask that will filter out harmful particles.

The cooperators also put together a general guide for staying healthy during wildfire smoke—including staying indoors, following instructions from your doctor if you have a heart or lung condition, and potentially even leaving the area if avoiding smoky air is otherwise impossible.

Is there a burn ban?

While there was a stage one air quality burn ban in effect in King, Pierce, Snohomish, Kitsap, and Snohomish counties for a while, that has since been lifted. The whole state’s Department of Natural Resources-controlled land are under a burn ban, though, and King and other local counties are under their own fire safety burn bams, too.