The oppressive gray blanket that covered the Yakima Valley lifted just enough Saturday to offer hope.
A thesaurus doesn’t do justice to the immense weight over the Northwest this past week. The wildfire smoke was so thick and lasting it was impossible to escape. Dog walks and mowing the grass — lifelines to our neighborhoods during a pandemic — weren’t advised.
Smoke doesn’t come as a surprise this time of year in Central Washington any more. The limited amount of smoke in 2019 was remarkable. But it usually doesn’t last this long without a break. Or limit activity already limited by coronavirus precautions. Or linger at such hazardous levels.
The Department of Ecology color-coded maps told the story by color — orange to red to purple to maroon to deeper maroon. We tracked the pollution by the numbers — 388 to 257 to 273.
The satellite map was even more ominous — a massive cloud of smoke from fires in Oregon and Washington that was offshore and then coming at us, slowly. The relentless wind, usually cursed by those in Ellensburg and Terrace Heights, was nonexistent. The weather forecast was good for firefighters, bad for breathing.
A drive through the Lower Valley gave a better picture of just what was missing. The visibility was so limited it was hard to see across the Yakima River. The ridges were obscured, as were our clear-day vistas of Mount Adams and Mount Rainier.
It was impossible to look out the window without thinking of the destruction from fires in Washington and Oregon that sent the smoke our way. The treasured homes and recreation spots lost. The people who died. The firefighters on the front lines. The communities of Malden, and Talent, Phoenix and Detroit, Ore. The anxiety and loss from the Evans Canyon Fire, charred hillside visible in the Wenas Valley and through the Yakima Canyon.
It makes another week inside seem small. A lost week in a lost year.
It also makes blue sky a welcome sight. A sign that late summer and fall are still here and waiting.