Hazardous air from wildfires in Washington and Oregon will likely persist in the Yakima Valley through the week though weather predictions indicate a late-week storm system will bring some relief.
Until then, health officials urge people to take precautions against the smoke, especially infants, children and adults over the age of 65, individuals with lung or heart disease or those with chronic health conditions and COVID-19.
Inhaling the smoky air can cause throat and sinus irritation, wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. It can also worsen some medical conditions. People should stay inside and keep indoor air clean by closing windows and doors when smoke is at unhealthy levels.
It was the fourth straight day of unhealthy and hazardous air in the Yakima Valley, with no relief anywhere in the state.
Toppenish had the worst air quality in the state on Tuesday afternoon, according to state Department of Ecology monitors.
As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, the air quality index for Yakima was 345. It was 444 for Toppenish and 416 for Sunnyside, according to the Department of Ecology’s interactive map. A rating of 50 or less means good air quality. A rating of 300 or more indicates air quality is hazardous.
Virginia Mason Memorial in Yakima is seeing more patients because of the smoky air. Respiratory Supervisor Nic Jennings worked in the Emergency Department eight hours Monday and saw more patients suffering from related health issues.
“We had more than the usual number of patients in the Emergency Department yesterday for shortness of breath and trouble breathing,” Jennings said. “Every single one of them that I saw complained about the smoke.”
To help homeless people with fewer options for escaping the unhealthy air, Yakima Neighborhood Health Services is distributing KN95 masks and the shelters are getting hotel rooms for the most vulnerable, said Leah Ward, communications manager for Neighborhood Health.
Businesses and schools
Businesses and private schools holding in-person classes have felt the impact, seeing fewer customers and temporarily moving instruction back online. Events have been canceled, postponed or altered because of the smoke.
The Yakima School District shortened the hours for its meal pick-up Wednesday. Meals will be distributed from 11 a.m. to noon and 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Meals are free for all children age 1-18. Those picking up for a YSD student need to bring the student’s ID card.
Another distribution is set from 2-6 p.m. Thursday at the district office, 1210 Ahtanum Ridge Drive in Union Gap, but that could change. “We will continue to monitor air conditions throughout the week and provide updates as needed,” the health district said in Tuesday’s release.
An air quality alert for the region continues until noon Friday, according to the National Weather Service at Pendleton, Ore. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Yakima-area seven-day weather forecast calls for a 30% chance of showers late Thursday night, along with showers late Friday morning.
Areas of smoke are expected to remain through late Friday morning. Saturday, Sunday and Monday are predicted to be sunny. However, improved visibility and air quality depends on where and how much rain falls and the nature of ongoing fires to the southwest, the National Weather Service stressed.
In the meantime, people should set air conditioners to recirculate and avoid burning candles and incense, smoking, broiling or frying foods and vacuuming, as these can add to indoor pollution.
Use a portable air cleaner with a HEPA filter or build your own with a box fan and air filter.