The end of wildfire season doesn’t always mean an end to smoky air. As temperatures drop and moisture increases, the main sources of smoke are backyard burning of brush and yard waste and prescribed burning. While outdoor burning of vegetative waste has been common practice in our county for decades, we need to consider safer, healthier alternatives.
Wood smoke is Okanogan County’s longest-standing pollution problem, as the smoke from wood burning stoves gets trapped low to the ground in “the breathing zone” in stagnant winter air. This often means our air quality is in the yellow/orange category (moderate/unhealthy for sensitive groups).
As in the fall season, spring smoke is most commonly caused by outdoor burning and prescribed forest burning. Every spring, hundreds of fires are started in Washington state by escaped burn piles. While outdoor burning of vegetative waste has been common practice in our county for decades, we need to consider safer, healthier alternatives.
Prescribed fire is a critical tool for managing forest health, decreasing future wildfire impacts and ultimately reducing the amount of smoke generated by forest fires. Burn managers take great care to reduce the chance of escaped burns and to keep smoke out of nearby communities. Compared to wildfires, prescribed burns are carefully planned, burn at much lower intensity and produce less smoke.
Okanogan County can experience prolonged periods of unhealthy smoke in the summer due to wildfires. We’ve developed a simple five-step checklist you can review while thinking about (or during) fire season. See the Smoke Ready Checklist below for more details on how to stay healthy and safe during this season.
Choose a room you can close off from outside air. Get an indoor air cleaning system set up to help keep your indoor air clean. Options include:
Before making plans, especially if they’re outdoors, check a reliable source for the current air quality and adjust accordingly.
For more information on air quality and fires, visit the WA Smoke blog or AirNow.gov
Okanogan County has a large number of sensors providing highly local information; find them at Clean Air Methow or PurpleAir.com/map
Consider how to keep children, seniors, pregnant women, those with heart or lung disease, and outdoor workers out of smoky air whenever possible.
For more on children’s health and wildfire smoke, visit wspehsu.ucsf.edu
Social connection is key when you are isolated indoors.
If you must be outside in heavy smoke, an N95 mask is essential. Cloth masks provide very little protection from wildfire smoke.
It shows up so reliably now that some call it “the fifth season” - those darkened skies, smells of smoke, and days of indoor confinement. Many of us have lived with it long enough to learn from it.
The Fifth Season is a series of audio stories from people in the Methow Valley and North Central Washington who have found ways to build wildfire smoke resilience. Their experiences can help us protect ourselves and our loved ones the next time the smoke rolls in. The Fifth Season has been expanded to include large scale photographic portraits of the featured community members, along with their audio stories. This audiovisual exhibit is hosted in the Winthrop library for Summer of 2022; enjoy it there or request it for your community space.
ORAP represents city, county, state, federal, Tribal governments and community programs working together to address high levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in our area. Our mission statement emphasizes non-regulatory solutions, educational opportunities and providing alternative (non-burning) disposal methods.
The Okanogan Coalition for Health Improvement (CHI) brings together a network of community health partners from all corners of Okanogan County to eliminate the health disparities that keep our neighbors, clients, and communities from living a full and healthy life.
CAM works in partnership to improve air quality where possible, and protect health where necessary. Year-round programming advocates for clean air for all, promoting smoke-ready communities and wildfire smoke preparedness. Solutions to improving air quality and raising community awareness include chipping and vegetation drives, a woodstove exchange program, and our Clean Air Ambassador hosts of purple air sensors. CAM is a community-based project of the non-profit Methow Valley Citizens Council.