Summer in the Pacific Northwest Is a Smoky, Hazy Mess Right Now

Better get used to it.

Thick smoke rises from the Maple Fire, obscuring the Olympic Mountains on August 8, 2018.Paul Christian Gordon/ZUMA

Firefighters are continuing to tackle huge blazes across British Columbia and the American West—as of Friday, 16 large fires and many more small fires were burning across Washington and Oregon. Heavy smoke blankets cities from Oregon to Colorado, and in Seattle, authorities have advised even healthy adults to stay indoors. Schools and sports teams have been urged to postpone outdoor activities, and flights have been delayed across the Pacific Northwest.

Portland Public Schools suspended all outdoor sports practices Monday, while in Seattle residents reported waking to a blood-red sun. Thick smoke in Denver also prompted air quality warnings, while air quality dropped from “very unhealthy” to “hazardous” in Spokane.

After two consecutive years of severe smoke in the Pacific Northwest, experts warn that smoky summers could continue in the American West, as climate conditions lead to larger and more destructive wildfires

Here are some images and reactions from residents in the region:

Last year, researchers from Colorado State University and the University of Houston found that wildfires may be responsible for thousands of deaths annually due to the tiny pollution particles, known as PM2.5, that the fires release into the atmosphere. Jeffrey Pierce, a professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University, estimated that between 5,000 and 25,000 people in the United States may currently die each year from PM2.5 caused by wildfires in the US and Canada. Children, seniors, and those with heart or lung diseases are especially at risk for the coughing, headaches, shortness of breath, and chest pain brought on by inhaling contaminated air.

Public health experts advise this group and others to protect themselves from wildfire smoke as they would from other air pollutants: by keeping windows and doors closed, running air conditioners, and not relying on paper dust masks, which have been proven insufficient, for protection.